“I think their yields are going to be up there in the top category for sure, especially for growers who often have problems with the alfalfa laying down.”
Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska extension agronomist, is referring to a new class of alfalfa varieties developed by Cal/West Seeds. Called StandFast varieties, their claims to fame are better standability and faster regrowth.
Both traits translate into higher yields, says Cal/West alfalfa breeder David Johnson. He points out that, when alfalfa lodges, several inches of stubble often remain in the field after cutting. That can have a big impact on season-long tonnage.
“For every inch that we gain per cut during the season, we add up to a half ton of yield,” says Johnson.
Lodged alfalfa also is more susceptible to leaf diseases, and often is wetter when cut, so it needs more time to dry in the windrow.
According to the company, StandFast varieties score from 4.3 to 5.4 on a 10-point standability scale. The best competitive varieties rank from 1.0 to 2.0 on the same scale.
Cal/West began developing StandFast in 1995, when it bought a European alfalfa breeding program. In Europe, high standability scores are a requirement for variety registration. The breeder crossed European parental plants with U.S.-bred parents to develop StandFast varieties. Conventional breeding methods were used.
Johnson says the fast recovery trait may be due to heterosis resulting from those crosses.
“This ability to recover fast adds a quarter of a ton per cut and in some cases up to a half ton.”
The company contracted with the University of Nebraska and Penn State University to test the varieties. Those trials have been under way for two growing seasons.
“I definitely agree with the lodging characteristic,” Nebraska's Anderson reports. “They do stand tall and strong.”
He says lodging is a significant problem for growers with “more conservative” management — those who aren't aiming for maximum quality. That's because alfalfa seldom lodges before it starts to bloom.
“I don't know if I would put their regrowth any faster than some of the other faster-regrowth varieties,” Anderson adds. “Certainly it's faster than our older-style varieties. But many newer varieties recover rapidly, and these would compete about equally with them.”
At Penn State, Dick Todd, senior agronomy research assistant, has been cutting the varieties at 25-30 day intervals, so he hasn't had a chance to evaluate their lodging resistance. But he says StandFast selections appear to regrow faster than other varieties.
“They come back almost like non-dormants,” he says.
Todd feels the varieties are well-suited for both haying and grazing.
Fall dormancy 4 and 5 StandFast varieties will be available from several seed companies for planting next spring.