In recent University of Minnesota research, alfalfa yields the year after seeding were greater when the crop was established with wheat than with other small grains. Currently, oats are the most commonly used companion crop for alfalfa establishment in Minnesota, says agronomist Craig Sheaffer. But the high value of wheat grain has renewed interest in seeding alfalfa with wheat instead, he says.

Research at three southern Minnesota locations evaluated alternative companion crops for alfalfa establishment. Assuming current market prices, Sheaffer says wheat and barley would be the most profitable small grain companion crop options, and oats the least profitable.

There are other factors to consider when choosing and managing a companion crop. Sheaffer says to pick early maturing, short varieties, reduce the seeding rate and promptly remove the straw.

A table comparing the grain and alfalfa yields is in the November issue of the University of Minnesota Forage Quarterly newsletter. View the newsletter at