It’s obvious your silo will not hold this year’s entire alfalfa crop. You begin to think feed costs will be lower this year due to more harvested tons of high-quality alfalfa. Turning this daydream into reality begins with something as simple as choosing your alfalfa variety.

Wiersma dan
Livestock Information Manager / DuPont Pioneer

Below are four key tips for finding top-shelf alfalfa genetics that can get you closer to that dream.

1. Know the company you keep
Partner with a reputable seed company that provides the best genetics and cares enough to help you make those genetics succeed on your farm.

Your alfalfa genetics supplier should do much more than deliver the seed you need to do business. Look for a company that offers trustworthy information, helping you evaluate the potential of new products and identify the right fit for your farm. Turn your seed company representative into a business partner, who helps you cut costs and identifies value for your forage operation.

2. Build a complete package
Not long ago, root rot diseases were driving growers away from alfalfa on wet soils. Today’s varieties deliver greatly improved alfalfa establishment and stand longevity. Selecting a disease and winterhardiness package reduces worries about high-risk weather and soil situations.


Alfalfa breeding has focused on advancing multiple disease-resistant varieties since the 1970s. These diseases include Bacterial Wilt, Verticillium Wilt, Fusarium Wilt, Anthracnose, Phytophthora and Aphanomyces (race 1 and 2) root rots. Each variety is evaluated using standardized tests and then characterized for five levels of disease resistance: susceptible, low resistance, moderate resistance, resistant and highly resistant.

A Disease Resistance Index (DRI) helps identify overall risk for the most common alfalfa diseases. The maximum score a variety can have is 35 (5 points for each disease). While no alfalfa variety can exhibit 100 percent resistance to a disease, top-shelf alfalfa varieties will offer levels of resistance above 50 percent for most diseases tested.

Winterhardiness of alfalfa varieties is another key factor in building your complete alfalfa package. In northern climates, winterhardiness is best defined as protection of the alfalfa crown against extreme cold exposure. In early alfalfa varieties, winterhardiness was closely related to fall dormancy. More recent breeding advances changed this relationship.

Today, varieties with a fall dormancy (FD) score of 4 and 5 have high levels of winterhardiness. One advantage of FD 4 and 5 plants is their ability to produce extra forage growth, especially in the fall growing period.

In addition to disease resistance and winterhardiness, other factors may influence your variety decision. If your fields are prone to lodging, look for a variety bred for high standability. To maximize forage quality or to extend your harvest window, consider a high-quality variety. When potato leafhopper pressures are an issue, or if you choose not to manage them chemically, select a leafhopper-resistant variety.

Finally, if weeds challenge your stand’s establishment, consider alfalfa varieties resistant to glyphosate herbicide. Know your risks and plan for them. Your best alfalfa package addresses all of your needs.

3. Demand proven performance.
Universities’ yield trials and seed companies’ data help prove yield potential of alfalfa varieties. Small differences in yield can drive big differences in your bottom line. Choosing a variety that averages one-half ton less than another is equivalent to choosing a corn variety that yields 20 bushels less per acre.

Many universities conduct alfalfa variety evaluation trials. Each university plants multiple locations and harvests four to five times per year for several years. While not as extensive as corn-trial efforts, these alfalfa trials provide insights into top-performing genetics. Look for varieties that consistently rise to the top of the tests across multiple years and locations.

In addition, company-provided data (the data that drives breeding programs) can be used to confirm the performance and reliability of an alfalfa variety.

4. Understand the bag’s tag.
Learn to read your alfalfa seed tag to make good value choices. Seed-coating amounts can be as high as 35 percent or as low as 8 percent. Seed-germination rates also vary significantly among varieties. Obviously, the cost of seeding an acre of alfalfa can differ dramatically based on seed coating and germination rates alone.

Most university research verifies that optimum alfalfa stands can be established with or without heavy clay seed coatings. Clay or limestone based seed coatings do not provide enhanced germination rates. Stand establishment is best achieved with high-germ seed that has a seed-applied fungicide and N-fixing rhizobium.
Avoid low levels of hard seed that do not contribute to stand establishment. Planting into a firm seedbed allows good seed-to-soil contact and ensures quick, uniform germination.

Remember: To make the dream of a healthy, bountiful alfalfa crop a reality, start with top-shelf genetics. Then drive your crop’s performance by planting for maximum seedling establishment, maintaining good weed-and-pest control, and addressing the soil pH and fertility needs of the growing crop. Be sure to keep these tips in mind as you select alfalfa varieties for the coming year.  F

Dan Wiersma dan
Dan Wiersma
Livestock Information Manager
DuPont Pioneer