ORDER EARLY if you plan to plant Roundup Ready Alfalfa seed during the next year. Monsanto expects supplies of the seed to be tight this fall for most of the country, with the exception of parts of California. “We should have a pretty good supply of nondormant varieties available, starting now,” says Chris Peterson, Monsanto Roundup Ready Alfalfa marketing manager. “With the demand being as strong as it has been this past year, we anticipate being a bit tight this fall from a dormant variety supply standpoint. We anticipate a better supply position next spring for dormant varieties, but you still would want to line up your seed supply early.” Growers who are interested in planting dormant varieties of Roundup Ready Alfalfa in the fall of 2007 are being urged to order their seed in the spring.

It has been just a little more than one year since Roundup Ready Alfalfa was approved for use in the U.S. There are now 25 U.S. seed suppliers offering the seed for sale. Roundup Ready Alfalfa hay has been approved for export to Japan, Mexico, Canada and Korea.

The new product has been of particular interest to hay producers who are working hard to produce weed-free hay for the dairy market. Roundup Ready Alfalfa also has been a good fit for producers who have used a companion crop in the past to prevent weed pressure during establishment.

Weed control

Jake Disch, a dairy and hay producer from Monroe, WI, is among the producers citing vigorous stand establishment as a big advantage of using Roundup Ready Alfalfa. Disch decided to try Roundup Ready Alfalfa on a 15-acre, nonirrigated field that had been planted to corn last year. “I had foxtail, ragweed and shattercane weed pressure in the field last year and wanted to try Roundup Ready Alfalfa because of the weed problem,” he relates. “I typically plant my alfalfa fields with peas or oats as a nurse crop and then I very seldom get a second cutting during the establishment year. I often have to use it as silage because of the weed problems.”

After taking soil samples, Disch applied lime to the field last fall at the suggestion of his consulting agronomist. He then minimum tilled this spring with a field cultivator and prepared a 3- to 4-in. seedbed. The field was direct-seeded at a rate of 20 lbs./acre with Roundup Ready Alfalfa on April 22, 2006. Disch only applied Roundup once for weeds when the stand was 4 in. tall.

“We suggest producers treat their alfalfa when weeds are small to remove potential weeds from the hay product and to get the highest-quality hay,” says Paulette Pierson, Monsanto Roundup Ready Alfalfa technical manager. “You can treat weeds late, but then the skeletons of those dead weeds will be in your hay and can reduce quality. In some areas, growers let that mower bar do their weed control in the first cut. But because of crop safety and ease of weed control offered by the Roundup Ready system, Roundup Ready Alfalfa offers the opportunity to get good-quality hay for the first cutting, while controlling the weeds and getting better establishment with stronger crowns and better root growth.”

Disch has averaged 2½ tons/acre in his Roundup Ready Alfalfa field and has been impressed with the dense, leafy stand. He credits the new technology with providing a 1 ton/acre yield advantage over his conventional alfalfa fields. His first cutting tested 161 Relative Feed Value (RFV). Disch plans to keep the field in Roundup Ready Alfalfa for three to four years.

Technology fee

The technology royalty assessed on the seed is $125/bag if it is sold east of the Rocky Mountains. Peterson says it does not take too long to recoup the technology fee based on improved production results. “In the East, for example, if you use an 18-lb./acre average seeding rate, and you get about 2.7 acres/bag at that seeding rate, the average life of the stand is about five years,” he explains. “So if you break the technology fee down per acre for the life of the stand, we are talking about $9/acre/year. We are seeing, through university and grower data, on some of the first and second cuttings alone, growers are getting up to a half-ton yield advantage from using the Roundup Ready Alfalfa.”

Disch expects that, because of the quality of hay produced, plus the increased tonnage he is getting from his Roundup Ready Alfalfa field, he will make money during this first year using the new technology. He anticipates getting three cuttings before the end of the season.

Assurance program

Monsanto offers a Roundup Ready Alfalfa stand assurance program. If a grower plants Roundup Ready Alfalfa in the spring, and the stand does not come up properly because of weather conditions, drought, etc. within 60 days of planting, the producer can replant at no additional technology charge. If the producer plants Roundup Ready Alfalfa in the fall, he has until May 15 to determine if the stand is satisfactory or if replanting will be necessary.