A seed mixture that pairs grasses with alfalfa and coats both seed types for uniform planting is now available from Barenbrug USA.
The system currently includes two products containing Baralfa X42, a branch-rooting hybrid alfalfa. E2 640 is a 60% alfalfa-40% soft-leaf fescue mixture. E2 631 includes the same amount of alfalfa with 30% soft-leaf fescue and 10% orchardgrass.
The seed coating, called Yellow Jacket, allows for even distribution at planting, says Peter Ballerstedt, Barenbrug forage product manager. It also offers other benefits, he says.
“Under moisture-deficient conditions, the coating creates a higher moisture environment around the germinating seed” due to an absorbent that can hold up to 600 times its own weight in water. A fungicide and nutrients are also part of the coating.
Tall fescue, the main grass component, “is the highest-yielding cool-season grass over a wide geographical range. But it’s not just any tall fescue – it’s soft-leaf fescue. So you get higher digestibility as well as high yield. Because of its late flowering date, its maturity aligns better with the alfalfa’s, producing better forage quality in the mixture at first cutting,” he says.
One of the reasons researchers suggest planting alfalfa-grass mixes is that they grow well where fields aren’t uniform. “Where alfalfas thin, for whatever reason, the grass grows there. Grass is the better crop in lower-pH, poorly drained soils,” Ballerstedt says.
Alfalfa-grass mixtures that are grazed and made into hay for dairy feed can help reduce laminitis in a herd, dairy scientists have advocated. The grasses are supposed to tone down energy levels and boost fiber in “hot” diets.
Jim Paulson, University of Minnesota Extension dairy educator, has completed several trials in which grasses of various types were seeded with alfalfa. The tall fescue-alfalfa pairing he tested was one of his top choices considering yield, quality and survivability, he pointed out in Hay & Forage Grower’s story, “The Best Grasses To Match With Alfalfa.”
Paulson hasn’t seen the Barenbrug products, but points out that alfalfa does seem to overwinter better when mixed with grasses than when in stands alone. Baralfa X42’s fall dormancy rating is 4; its winterhardiness rating is 2.
Although the company states that the seed coating keeps the alfalfa and grass seed from “separating,” University of Wisconsin Extension forage specialist Dan Undersander suggests growers check that for themselves. During shipping, denser seed tends to settle to the bottom of a bag, he says.
“I would encourage them to look in the bags and see if the alfalfa and tall fescue seed appear to be a uniformly distributed. Or, as they’re pouring the seed into their seeders, check to make sure that it is mixed throughout.
“On the outside chance that it does separate, they could still mix it in the seed boxes.”
The areas of adaptation for the E2 products are from Virginia west into Missouri, then north “until you get to where fescue is probably challenged by winter conditions,” Ballerstedt says. “We’ve had it growing from the southern Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia areas up to New York and then all the way across western Missouri, Iowa and into Minnesota.”