If you have been reading our newsletter and listening to Daniel’s Facebook site you may not expect this from us, but here goes. For the last twenty years or so, Daniel and some others at Byron Seed, LLC (where most of the seed used by Forage Innovations clients get the seed) have been working on an idea that has finally earned its due. I guess it already had believers from our side and with the folks which tried it on their farms; I will get back to the idea in a minute!
One of the big reasons alfalfa acreages are at a longtime low and has been decreasing for twenty-five years is because of yield. The average alfalfa yield in Wisconsin (the leading state for total alfalfa tons) is 4.1 dry matter (DM) tons per acre. It was 4.3 tons in 1973! This makes it difficult to compete with other dairy forages when, for example, corn silage is producing approximately twice the tons DM in the same fields. Tonnage for alfalfa has remained stagnant for this time when other forages are increasing and we’re already higher. The only thing that is decreasing faster are the number of actual companies breeding alfalfa—but that is a story for another article!
The Big Idea
Forage Innovations (FI) has been recommending a unique method of increasing alfalfa yield. Eventually, we put our best results in a bag and this group of Kingfisher (KF) Alfalfas are called “Synergyx.” More on the name later. We are seeing yields increased by about 15% in alfalfa stands. It is a simple but groundbreaking technique which has been increasing tonnage by about 15%! Even though this method has been consistently successful for KF, it is hard for an alfalfa seed breeder to achieve for a remarkably simple reason.
So, what’s our strategy?
KF mixes alfalfas with different root structures to take advantage of a more efficient and efficacious use of the soil they are grown in. Usually this means combining seeds from different alfalfa breeding programs. At first, we simply just mixed alfalfas together—it always seemed to work, but we knew there must be an even better way to find the best combinations. It was finally figured out that the root systems were the key. Forage Innovations has helped with research which has looked at hundreds of different variety combinations/ratios to determine which alfalfa varieties work the best together. Often FI has over 400 combinations in trials.
There are three major types of alfalfa root systems:
There may even be some rhizomatous types, also. We have been mixing these types in trials for years and have developed combinations which not only produce more yield, but also win at the World Dairy Expo Forage Analysis Superbowl (FASB) for quality.
Alfalfa breeders striving to breed or develop only higher quality alfalfa, to a great extent, have been also disappointing, yield-wise. GMO alfalfa which strived to increase quality has not been a boost to yield. For most farms yield is the big player or otherwise alfalfa acres would not be headed in the wrong direction when quality is enhanced. The high establishment costs, combined with lower yields and life expectancy has exponentially increased the cost per pound of feed. The increase in the digestibility of GMO alfalfas are typically less than one standard deviation which means they may not be better than the most digestible standard varieties from the population of alfalfa varieties.
Someone else has possibly noticed our findings. Dr. Deborah Samac, Plant Pathologist and Research Leader for ARS, plus Adjunct Professor at the University of Minnesota, has noticed alfalfa roots filling up the rhizosphere, (soil in the vicinity of roots), produce more alfalfa by similar percentages as in our work. Plot data showing trial results from Daniels’s plots are in Tables 1, 2, and 3 below.
The tables are a composite of all plots containing the two Synergyx varieties. For these three years, Ignite produced 3500 pounds more alfalfa and the Hydro produced 5870 pounds more alfalfa than the average of the plot. This calculated to 12% and 19% more respectively.
What about the name Synergyx?
Obviously it is taken from the word synergy—a word basically meaning the parts together work better than the parts individually. There you have it. And now you see we finally have something good to deliver about alfalfa!