Sustainability has become a buzzword in agriculture in recent years. What can farmers do to make their operations more sustainable for the future? Many are looking at incorporating cover crops, changing up continuous cropping rotations or even adding livestock where they previously weren’t. But one thing that’s often overlooked is the benefit of adding a crop like alfalfa and how it can affect on-farm sustainability.
There are many reasons alfalfa has been called the “Queen of Forages.” For starters, it’s a highly nutritious crop with many benefits for livestock. It’s also a highly palatable forage with high rates of digestion and elevated animal intake. Studies have shown that when alfalfa is included in a ration, dairy cattle have higher milk protein production, as well as improved intake and digestibility. Additionally, because it’s a great source of effective fiber as well as calcium, alfalfa can also carry a lower risk for rumen acidosis compared to higher starch feeds.
Besides these well-known animal benefits, what are other benefits to growing alfalfa?
Soil health benefits:
- Decreased need for soil cultivation can result in decreased erosion, improved soil aggregation and increased carbon sequestration and resiliency to environmental stresses.
- Deep taproots help increase water and nutrient infiltration, while promoting a healthy rhizosphere.
- Alfalfa helps soak up excessive nutrients such as nitrates and other chemicals including heavy metals.
Wildlife and insect diversification:
- A single field of alfalfa can be home to hundreds of different species of arthropods, creating a stable environment, as well as a food source and cover for insects.
- Wildlife is often found in alfalfa fields, preying on smaller mammals found within its dense canopy or foraging on the alfalfa itself.
- Alfalfa can help break up pest cycles that would normally appear in continuous cropping systems.
- It is a non-host crop to many of the insect pests and diseases that commonly afflict corn and soybeans.
- Alters weed communities, suppressing those that are most commonly found in annual crops.
- Often decreases need for herbicides, particularly after establishment.
Synthetic fertilizer minimization:
- Because alfalfa is a perennial legume, it creates a symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing Rhizobia.
- A nitrogen credit created can be used for the next crop, decreasing need for additional nitrogen application.
- Other nutrients must still be applied, such as phosphorous, potassium, and sulfur.
- Growers can usually estimate an average contribution of 120-150 pounds of nitrogen per acre, depending on age and health of stand, as well as soil type and environment.
Important role in livestock diets:
- Alfalfa is the single most important forage legume for dairy cattle.
- It can help maximize dairy production due to its high quality and palatability.
- Alfalfa improves intake and digestion compared to many of its counterparts.
- It also lowers the risk of rumen acidosis compared to high-starch feeds like corn and corn silage.
- Alfalfa helps diversify farmers’ on-farm economic portfolio.
- Farmers can anticipate higher yield potential due to new technological advancements.
- Undersander and Barnett (2008)1 found with decreased nitrogen needs and improved corn yield potential after alfalfa rotation producers can realize a net profit of almost $33 per acre.
How HarvXtra® Alfalfa with Roundup Ready® Technology fits into your operational goals:
- HarvXtra Alfalfa technology provides farmers more options and flexibility compared to conventional alfalfa.
- The ability to decrease an entire cutting can decrease harvest-associated costs, as well as the amount of fuel and resources used to manage alfalfa.
. . º Decreased wheel traffic improves overall health and productivity of stand.
- The improved digestibility of HarvXtra Alfalfa has the potential to improve overall on-farm profitability, whether it be due to higher forage quality resulting in higher hay value, or improved digestibility and intake by consuming livestock.
- Yield potential can increase by up to 20% when extending harvest windows, improving overall profitability and production per acre.
To learn more about the important role NEXGROW alfalfa varieties can play in reaching your farm’s sustainability goals, call your local NEXGROW alfalfa dealer or visit plantNEXGROW.com.
NEXGROW® alfalfa varieties are for dairy and beef farmers and commercial hay producers who are always looking for next-generation advances in high-yielding and high-quality alfalfa varieties. Few companies offer a broader portfolio of HarvXtra, Roundup Ready and conventional alfalfas than NEXGROW, and we can help you navigate the many considerations to determine what’s best for your farm. Our HarvXtra Alfalfa with Roundup Ready Technology varieties offer growers extra flexibility when it comes to cutting without sacrificing forage quality or yield potential. With a more flexible cutting window, growers are in charge of their harvest schedules. Roundup Ready Technology alfalfa also delivers unsurpassed weed control and crop safety in the field.
1Undersander, Dan and Ken Barnett. 2008. Ken Barnett, Value of Short Rotations for Alfalfa Profitability. https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/forage/files/2014/01/ValueShortRotations08.pdf February 8, 2021.
©2021 Forage Genetics International. Due to factors outside of Forage Genetics International’s (FGI’s) control, such as weather, crop production patterns and other factors, results to be obtained, including but not limited to yields or financial performance, cannot be predicted or guaranteed by FGI. HarvXtra® and NEXGROW® are registered trademarks of Forage Genetics International, LLC. Roundup Ready® is a registered trademark of Monsanto Technology LLC, used under license by Forage Genetics International, LLC. HarvXtra® Alfalfa with Roundup Ready® Technology is subject to planting and use restrictions. Visit ForageGenetics.com/legal for the full legal, stewardship and trademark statements for these products.