There are strong opinions on whether grasses should or shouldn't be included when seeding alfalfa. There certainly are advantages and disadvantages regardless of which approach is taken. Further, there is always a third alternative of growing both alfalfa and grasses, just in separate fields.
There's no question that alfalfa-grass mixtures have gained more acceptance in recent years, though in areas such as the Northeast they have long been the preferred way to roll. In a recent edition of the Midwest Forage Association's Forage Focus, North Dakota State University forage agronomist, Marisol Berti, outlined 10 good reasons to consider including grass in alfalfa seedings.
She emphasizes that traits such as winterhardiness, yield potential, disease resistance and seasonal distribution of forage yield are important when selecting the type of grass to pair with alfalfa. Here's her Letterman-like list for reasons to include a grass with alfalfa.
1. Forage yield is often greater in alfalfa-grass mixtures than for pure alfalfa, especially if alfalfa is subject to winterkill.
2. If conditions are wet, sod-forming grasses make fields less vulnerable to equipment damage during harvest. Alfalfa-grass mixtures also tolerate manure applications better.
3. Alfalfa-grass mixtures wilt more rapidly after cutting and swaths/windrows are fluffier, allowing for increased air circulation.
4. Alfalfa plants are less prone to winterkill in grass mixtures. This increases stand longevity.
5. Grasses will grow in areas where alfalfa will not, such as poorly drained areas and in saline soils.
6. Grasses, when cut early, have a high-fiber digestibility even though neutral detergent fiber (NDF) levels are greater than alfalfa. Grasses also make the harvested forage more palatable.
7. Grasses enhance the nitrogen fixation capabilities of alfalfa, while at the same time alfalfa provides enough nitrogen for optimum grass growth.
8. If grazed, alfalfa-grass mixtures are less prone to cause bloat in cattle than pure alfalfa stands.
9. Mixtures improve perennial weed suppression.
10. Some grasses establish faster than alfalfa and can provide soil erosion control.