Wisconsin family dominates annual contest. Dan Kamps loves growing high-quality alfalfa, but even he admits it sometimes gets a bit monotonous. To make his work a little more interesting, Kamps enters the World's Forage Analysis Superbowl every year.

"We take a lot of hay tests in the summer and it's fun to see what kind of numbers we can get," says Kamps, a Darlington, WI, commercial hay grower.

Some of those numbers have been quite impressive in recent years. Good enough, in fact, to make Kamps, his wife, Ruth, and son Joshua perennial finalists in the World's Forage Analysis Superbowl.

Dan and Ruth won the 2000 contest and were named World's Champion Forage Producers at last October's World Dairy Expo.

Their champion entry - in the commercial hay class - was a second-cutting sample from a two-year-old stand. It tested 26.5% crude protein, 19.5% ADF and 27.1% NDF with a relative feed value (RFV) of 253.

They also topped the contest's commercial bale silage class with an entry that tested 26.1% crude protein, 22.3% ADF and 29.0% NDF with an RFV of 229. Joshua was close behind, finishing second in bale silage and third in commercial hay.

Joshua, now 19, won the contest in 1998 with alfalfa he managed as part of an FFA project. In 1999, he won the bale silage class and Dan and Ruth placed fourth. Joshua also placed 15th in commercial hay that year.

The Kamps grow 500 acres of alfalfa plus corn and soybeans. About one-third of their alfalfa acreage is harvested in 70-lb bales. The balance is put up in 3 x 3 x 8' bales weighing 900-1,000 lbs each. Some of the midsized bales are wrapped in plastic and sold as bale silage.

Most of the hay and silage is marketed to dairy and goat farmers and horse owners in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. For the past eight years, the Kamps have been the sole provider of hay to the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison.

Last spring they took their first cutting at prebud stage on May 8. "We usually start cutting our alfalfa a week earlier than most people do around here. If we don't, the last of our first crop isn't dairy-quality," says Kamps.

They take four or five cuttings per year from stands that last four or five years. Usually, fields coming out of alfalfa are rotated to mid-Group II Roundup Ready soybeans after the first cutting. The beans are no-till drilled into the stubble as soon as the first cutting is off.

"Those were some of our best soybeans last year," says Kamps. "They were planted in mid-May and the beans that we had in by the end of April didn't yield any better than those we put behind the alfalfa."

Following alfalfa with soybeans isn't a common practice in southern Wisconsin, says Kamps. "In our experience, certain varieties of beans yield better on sod ground than on corn ground. It seems like they can make better use of the extra nitrogen."

Heavy fertilization is one part of their high-quality alfalfa formula. Others include a high seeding rate (20 lbs/acre), laying hay in 8'-wide swaths to speed drying, and the option to mechanically dry hay in an LP-powered drying shed if necessary.

For the first time last year, the Kamps started to keep detailed records of their cutting dates.

"Every day after we got done cutting we went to a map that we had made of our fields and wrote it down. We referred to the map frequently and went back and cut those fields every 28-30 days. Of course, we looked at the hay, too, but if it had been 30 days, we started cutting no matter what."

Cutting every 28-30 days, regardless of the weather, works for them because they have the option of making dry hay or bale silage.

"With the bale wrapper, we don't have to wait for the hay to get as dry," says Kamps. "That enables us to keep a timely cutting schedule and put up more high-quality hay." He wraps the bales at 30-60% moisture.

The other class winners in the 2000 World's Forage Analysis Superbowl are:

Dairy hay: Wayne Harris, Lister, British Columbia.

Dairy haylage: Jeanquart Farms, Casco, WI.

Dairy corn silage: Wiese Brothers Farm, Greenleaf, WI.

Commercial hay: Freeburg Hay Co., Gayville, SD.

Champion first-time entrant: Ken Harms, Snowflake, Manitoba.

The forage contest, launched in 1984, is sponsored by Hay & Forage Grower, AgSource Cooperative Services/CRI, DairyBusiness Communications, World Dairy Expo and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.