After a slide in 2011, alfalfa plantings could be trending upward in parts of the Midwest, according to reports on spring sales from three major seed companies.
Seeds sales have been “doing well” in Dairyland Seed’s Midwest marketing territory, says Mike Velde, its alfalfa researcher and U.S.-Canada distribution manager.
Last year’s hay and haylage shortage in the region is likely playing a role. “A lot of dairy producers in the Midwest are looking at that and have decided they need to rebuild and maintain their hay supplies this year,” he says.
Pioneer has also seen an uptick in alfalfa seed sales this spring, says Robin Newell, senior forage business manager. Strong hay prices in 2011 have helped lure commercial hay growers to put more acres back into alfalfa production.
“With corn and soybean prices tilting up over the last several years, there was an incentive for many commercial hay growers in the Midwest to convert at least some of their acreage to grain production,” says Newell. “But alfalfa hay in the region has been selling for $250/ton and up. That caught people’s attention. Now they’re coming back to hay.”
Based on field reports, Newell has “been somewhat surprised,” there wasn’t more early planting activity this spring. “We had a wonderful planting window with warm weather in many areas in mid-March. For one reason or another, though, there wasn’t as much planting going on as we expected. There’s still a lot of planting left to do.”
Syngenta’s alfalfa seed sales were especially strong from late March through the first 10 days of April, says Brent Johnson, the company’s alfalfa product lead. Later in April, sales tapered off some as growers began planting corn.
“Historically, when we get a warm spring like this, we usually get strong alfalfa plantings,” says Johnson. “Early on, growers are still making decisions about what to plant. If they’re on the fence about what to do with a particular field and it’s too early to get going on corn, they’ll often go ahead and plant that field to alfalfa.”