Hybrid alfalfa arrives
by Jodie Wehrspann

New hybrid seed boosts alfalfa yields

Hybrid alfalfa has several advantages over conventional alfalfa. The first is higher yield. A second advantage is that plants are stronger than conventional alfalfa plants and can take more abuse, which provides growers more flexibility in their harvest. - Tom Strachota, Dairyland Seed

After 24 years in development, hybrid alfalfa has finally hit the market. Dairyland Seed has released limited quantities of its HybriForce-400 hybrid alfalfa for the 2001 growing season, with broader availability in 2002.

“We're here to tell you that good things take time,” says Tom Strachota, chief executive officer of Dairyland Seed. “Anything worthwhile takes time and effort. And we think this is very worthwhile.”

Bigger and better According to Strachota, hybrid alfalfa has several advantages over conventional alfalfa. The first is higher yield. In university trials conducted over three years in six locations in four Midwest states, hybrid alfalfa produced 8% higher yields than conventional varieties. In on-farm test plots across the Midwest, the difference was as high as 15%.

A second advantage is that plants are stronger than conventional alfalfa plants and can take more abuse, which provides growers more flexibility in their harvest. “So, if it looks like rain tomorrow or if you want to go fishing, you can harvest the product today — perhaps a little earlier than you otherwise would — and have less risk of stand loss than if you were to harvest a non-hybrid product that early,” Strachota says.

Because the plants are more resilient, they also green up faster in the spring and regrow faster in the summer after being cut, he adds. Faster regrowth allows photosynthesis to kick in sooner to give growers a longer growing season.

Years in the making To achieve hybrid alfalfa, Dairyland Seed had to find a way to control pollen flow. Unlike corn, in which you can control pollination by pulling a tassel to separate the male and female parts of the plant, alfalfa has its male and female parts right next to each other in the same pin-sized floret, making them difficult to separate. As a result, conventional alfalfa is pollinated randomly by bees, which can lead to inbreeding and lower yields.

Rather than trying to control the flow of pollen physically, Dairyland addressed the problem genetically through a breeding process called msSunstra, which the company has now patented. With this process, Dairyland uses a special female or male-sterile plant with no pollen in its sacs and a special male or “maintainer” plant. These plants allow the company to maintain the crop's sterility and prevent inbreeding as it increases seed supply. In this way, the company can economically produce a hybrid with higher yields.

Other varieties coming Dairyland will license the technology to other companies. Growers can expect these companies to introduce other hybrid alfalfa varieties for the 2002 growing season, Strachota says.

The retail price of HybriForce-400 is $270/bag versus $227/bag for the company's premium brand of conventional alfalfa. However, Strachota says growers should reclaim the additional cost after the first year of planting through higher yields, assuming normal growing conditions.

Contact Dairyland Seed Co., Dept. FIN, Box 958, West Bend, WI 53095, 800/236-0163.

Control soybean fungi

The EPA has approved new labels for use of Quadris on soybeans. It can be used in-furrow or banded to control soilborne diseases in soybeans.

The maker of the fungicide, Syngenta, has labeled it for foliar application at a rate of 6.2 to 15.4 oz./acre on soybeans to control aerial blight, and 12.3 to 15.4 oz./acre to control anthracnose, Alternaria leaf spot, brown spot, Cercospora blight and leaf spot, pod and stem blight, and southern blight. The higher rates should be used under conditions favorable for severe disease pressure, dense plant canopies or when susceptible varieties are planted. No more than two applications of Quadris should be made per growing season.

The company also announces a new formulation of Gramoxone. Gramoxone Max allows growers to treat the same number of acres with fewer containers. It contains 3 lbs./gal. of active ingredient, whereas the previous formula contained 2½ lbs./gal. Contact Syngenta Crop Protection Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 18300, Greensboro, NC 27409, 800/334-9481, www.syngenta.com.

Updated pesticide guide

The 2000-2001 Pesticide Directory is available from Thomson Publications. Listings include addresses and information about manufacturers, universities, extension offices, USDA, EPA, national associations and more. Price: $50. Contact Thomson Publications, Dept. FIN, Box 9335, Fresno, CA 93791, 559/266-2964, www.agbook.com.