Control competition to overcome establishment woes. Kura clover has been highly touted in some circles as a legume worthy of a closer look by Midwestern livestock producers. In a variety of research trials in Wisconsin and Minnesota over the past decade, the legume has scored high in stand persistence, tolerance for harsh weather, yield, quality and compatibility with pasture grasses.

Even so, a reputation for being hard to establish, coupled with relatively high seed cost, has kept many farmers from hopping on the kura clover bandwagon. Now, new developments could soon bring more producers into the fold.

"Slow establishment has definitely been a big hurdle," says Phil Geertson, of Geertson Seed Farms, an Oregon-based producer of kura clover. Geertson explains that kura clover is unique among legumes because of its massive rhizome (underground stem) system.

"During the seeding year, you get very little in the way of leaf or stem growth above ground because most of the energy is directed to getting the rhizomes and roots established," says Geertson. "That continues into the second year. By the third year, it really starts taking off into full production."

These plant characteristics make kura clover extremely susceptible to competition.

"It doesn't have the kind of elongated stems above ground that you see in other legumes," says Ken Albrecht, a University of Wisconsin agronomist who has been conducting research on kura clover for nearly a dozen years. "It can easily be overtowered by weeds or other grasses in existing pastures."

Clipping, strategic grazing and herbicide control during the seeding year can all help with stand establishment, according to Albrecht.

"The method you choose depends on your own preferences and circumstances," he says. "You also want to make sure that the seed is inoculated with rhizobia specifically for kura clover to ensure that the plant nodulates and supplies nitrogen to the pasture system."

While Albrecht reports success in planting kura in a mixture with pasture grasses, Geertson prefers a solo planting of the legume, followed by a planting of grasses the next year. "It's just too easy to crowd it out during the establishment year," he says.

Geertson also recommends clipping the crop at least once a month during the seeding year. "It can be a high clip so that you just cut off the taller weeds and allow the clover to grow," he says.

Soil fertility needs to be taken into account, too. In a recent University of Minnesota study, researchers found that, where initial soil nitrogen fertility is limited, applications of nitrogen fertilizer and rhizobial inoculant can improve kura clover establishment.

The current price of kura clover seed is around $4.50-6.50/lb. By way of comparison, alfalfa seed costs about $3/lb.

"We think we learned some things this past year that will help us bring that cost down in the near future," says Geertson, who believes his company is the only U.S. supplier of kura clover seed. "If we can, I think you'll really see kura clover take off."

And, contends Albrecht, seed price shouldn't be the only factor producers consider in evaluating it. Results from his research trials indicate that the optimum seeding rate for kura clover in Wisconsin is 6-10 lbs/acre - half the typical seeding rate for alfalfa.

"So even though the seed costs more, the overall cost of establishing a stand works out to about the same," he says.

The value of a persistent stand can also play a role in determining whether kura is a good fit for a farm.

"With kura clover, once you plant it, it's there as long as you want it to be there," Albrecht says. "Some of the stands we're working with are 11 years old and we haven't seen any decline. In Minnesota, there are some stands that are 20 years old. That compares to two to four years for a stand of alfalfa in this part of the country."

Site Offers Alfalfa Advice And Free Seed America's Alfalfa has improved its Web site. In addition to seed rebates, an alfalfa growers club, a free hay exchange, links to alfalfa experts and variety performance information, the site also offers the chance to win a free bag of alfalfa seed.

Warren Thompson, the company's forage specialist, is available to answer questions by e-mail. His goal: to help farmers consistently increase returns from forage crops whether they are used as hay, silage or grazing, while reducing the incidence of soil erosion.

Two research experts also answer questions via e-mail. Jim Moutray, America's Alfalfa director of research, has developed over 130 seed varieties. Don Miller is the senior plant breeder.

Another feature: Alfalfa University, a mini-course developed by Thompson, covers 25 major subjects, including perennial weed control, winter alfalfa management, soil selection, what to do before you seed and using manure on alfalfa.

Visit www.americasalfalfa.com for details. No purchase is necessary.

Log On To Buy Or Sell Hay Online A few clicks of your mouse may help you find the hay, or the hay customer, you need.

Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. has developed the Emergency Forage Connection, an electronic bulletin board aimed at bringing together buyers and sellers of hay and other forages.

"Livestock producers in many areas may desperately need quality silage and hay in the coming year," says Kurt Ruppel, Pioneer dairy production specialist. "We hope by offering this service that we can get alfalfa farmers together with livestock producers so everyone benefits."

Producers can place free advertisements on the site (www.pioneer.com/flash) by completing a short form.

Pioneer's site also offers alfalfa crop management and agronomics advice. Subjects include potato leafhopper control strategies, performance of potato leafhopper resistant varieties and harvest management's impact on alfalfa yield and quality.