Evaluating new alfalfa varieties should be easier than usual this year. Seed companies report that they're introducing 17 new varieties for 2000, much fewer than usual.

But, while the numbers are down, the list includes something to meet the needs of almost every choosy grower. And all 17 of the new choices offer strong disease resistance, good yield and high-quality forage, according to the companies that submitted them.

But don't think we've done all the homework: Look through this listing and pick a few varieties with the characteristics that suit your situation. Further your research by checking out yield results from field trials in your region. Then try one or two new varieties in small acreages and watch how they perform.

The following varieties are organized by fall dormancy rating.

Fall Dormancy 3

New from Novartis Seeds, Golden Valley, MN, is EverGreen, with HopperGuard resistance to potato leafhopper and high resistance to Phytophthora root rot (PRR), race 2 anthracnose and bacterial and fusarium wilts. With a Wisconsin Disease Rating Index (WDRI) score of 28 out of 30, it's also resistant to aphanomyces and verticillium wilt. The variety delivers high yields, long-term stands and a strong winterhardiness rating of 2, making it suited for Northern growing conditions.

FQ315 offers excellent protein content and relative feed value, according to Cargill Hybrid Seeds, Minneapolis. With high resistance to stem nematode and very good multiple pest tolerance and stand persistence, this multileaflet variety has the potential to deliver outstanding tonnage. It has a winterhardiness rating of 2.5, a recovery rating of 7 and a WDRI score of 30.

Well-adapted to areas where potato leafhopper pressure can be extremely high, 53H81 is from Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Johnston, IA. It offers high yields and is highly resistant to bacterial, fusarium and verticillium wilts, anthracnose and aphanomyces. It's resistant to PRR.

Lightning II, with a fall dormancy of 3.7, is from Jung Seed Genetics, Randolph, WI. It is highly resistant to the six major alfalfa diseases - bacterial, verticillium and fusarium wilts, anthracnose, aphanomyces and PRR - as well as pea aphid. It's resistant to spotted alfalfa aphid. The multileaflet alfalfa's WDRI score: 30. It has a winterhardiness score of 1.7.

Dairyland Seed, West Bend, WI, offers Magnum V-Wet, a good choice for growers with low-lying or poorly drained soils. Its branched-root trait keeps more of the root system above the water table and helps anchor plant crowns against heaving. The variety is highly resistant to PRR, northern root knot nematode and bacterial and fusarium wilts. It's resistant to aphanomyces, verticillium wilt, race 1 anthracnose, stem nematode, spotted alfalfa aphid and pea aphid. Its winterhardiness score: 2.5.

With a fall dormancy of 3.5, Triple Crown is specifically for use through the Midsouth and East. It's rated 29 out of 30 on the WDRI and is highly resistant to aphanomyces. Its high expression of the multileaflet trait gives it an attractive, leafy appearance. Seed is available through Southern States Cooperative.

ValuePlus 1 is new from Brown Seed Farms, Prescott, WI. It has a fall dormancy of 3.8 and a winterhardiness rating of 1.5. Highly resistant to all six of the major alfalfa diseases, it holds a 30-out-of-30 WDRI score. It's a multileaflet variety.

W-L Research, from Evansville, WI, introduces WL 327, with a WDRI score of 29 out of 30. It has high resistance to pea aphid and is resistant to stem nematode. Its fall dormancy is 3.9; its winterhardiness rating, 2.8. Well-adapted across a broad range of soil types and cutting managements, WL 327 displays very fast recovery after cutting, excellent leaf retention and dark green foliage.

Fall Dormancy 4

AmeriGraze 401+Z has the best traffic tolerance of any variety in the dormancy 4 class, according to America's Alfalfa, Shawnee Mission, KS. In independent tests, the variety maintained a 92% stand after 60 field drive-overs, the company reports. It also can be cut on a 21-day harvest schedule and has high resistance to PRR and phoma crown rot, the traffic disease.

Cimarron SR is the latest improvement of the Cimarron line of alfalfa varieties from Great Plains Research, Apex, NC. Its large leaves, fine stems and exceptional leaf retention produce hay high in crude protein. The variety is resistant to sclerotinia and highly resistance to PRR, bacterial, verticillium and fusarium wilts, race 1 anthracnose and pea aphid.

Excellent winterhardiness and persistence, combined with high forage yield and exceptional recovery after cutting, are traits of Rocket, from FFR Cooperative, Battle Ground, IN. The variety rates a 30-out-of-30 WDRI score and is highly resistant to all six major alfalfa diseases in the Midwest. It has a high expression of the multileaflet trait. Seed is available through Land O'Lakes East in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio and through Growmark-FS in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Trialfalon, from Chemgro Seeds, East Petersburg, PA, has 98% multileaflet expression and a 2.7 winterhardiness score. It offers excellent stand persistence and fast regrowth. The alfalfa is highly resistant to PRR, bacterial and fusarium wilts, anthracnose and aphanomyces. It's resistant to verticillium wilt.

Wintergold, the newest from Renk Seed, Sun Prairie, WI, features high yield and persistence. It has above-average feed quality and rates 30 out of 30 in the WDRI. It works well in both northern and southern alfalfa growing areas. The variety, with a winterhardiness of 2.3, is highly resistant to PRR, anthracnose, aphanomyces and bacterial, verticillium and fusarium wilts.

Pioneer's 54V54 provides an even stronger performance package, combined with excellent pest resistance, than its 5454 variety. The new one has above-average relative feed value and a long stand life. It's highly resistant to PRR, anthracnose, and bacterial, verticillium and fusarium wilts; resistant to spotted aphid; and moderately resistant to aphanomyces.

Fall Dormancy 5

Selected in the Southern High Plains for maximum yield, even under low-rainfall conditions, Abilene +Z is new from America's Alfalfa. This semidormant variety is resistant to stem and lesion nematodes and is highly resistant to five of the major alfalfa diseases. It also features advanced +Z seedling resistance, which improves stand establishment.

Fall Dormancy 8

Great Plains' Rio Grande is a cross between the high-yielding, winter-active alfalfa of the desert Southwest and the high-quality, multiple-pest resistant, winter-dormant alfalfas of the North. Rio Grande is highly resistant to PRR, fusarium wilt, anthracnose, pea, blue and spotted alfalfa aphids as well as resistant or moderately so to a number of other pests.

Fall Dormancy 10

Sedona is the first alfalfa to earn a fall dormancy score of 10, allowing Southwestern growers year-long harvest, according to Novartis Seeds. A hot-climate alfalfa, Sedona is well-adapted to the low desert areas of California and Arizona. It has very fast regrowth after cutting and is highly resistant to fusarium wilt, root knot nematode and pea, spotted and blue aphids. The variety, with a winterhardiness score of 6, is moderately resistant to stem nematode.