Southern growers have ignored alfalfa for years, says Donald Wood, University of Georgia (UGA) forage breeding program coordinator.
“Farmers wouldn’t plant alfalfa. Really, what they wouldn’t do was plow out their bermudagrass to plant alfalfa,” he adds.
Now they don’t have to, says Joe Bouton, retired Noble Foundation researcher and UGA emeritus professor.
By interseeding nitrogen-fixing alfalfa into bermudagrass, producers can increase their hay quality and cut fertilizer costs. And new alfalfa varieties are adapted to the South, offering very good pest resistance, he says.
Working with Wood and Bouton are Dennis Hancock, UGA Extension forage specialist; Athens Seed Co., Watkinsville; and several growers throughout Georgia. Their goal: To prove that the alfalfa-bermudagrass system is viable.
Arkansas growers are utilizing a similar University of Arkansas program run by Extension forage specialist John Jennings and Benton County Extension agent Robert Seay. More states, from Texas and Oklahoma to the Atlantic Ocean, are curious about the system, Bouton says.
“One of the things that always scared people about growing alfalfa in the South is that when the stands start deteriorating, you get a lot of weed pressure. Or if you failed with it in the early stages, you might not recoup your establishment costs,” Bouton explains. “The beauty of this system is, if you fail with alfalfa, you still have bermudagrass.”
But failing isn’t an option for growers in the UGA program. First of all, only growers proved to be good managers can be a part of it. And they must follow Wood’s eight-step program.
“It’s not for everybody,” warns Bouton. Soil type can be a limitation as well as producer willingness to manage the system, he adds.
For details, contact Tony Harper, Athens Seed, at 800-282-7004 or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hancock has also prepared a video called “Why Interseed Alflafa In to Bermudagrass."