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«Alfalfa Seed Production By RALPH D. MERCER Extension Agronomist Montana Extension Service in Agriculture and Home Economics, J. C. Taylor. dlre~r. ...»

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Bulletin No. 218 March,1943

Alfalfa Seed Production



Extension Agronomist

Montana Extension Service in Agriculture and Home Economics, J. C. Taylor. dlre~r.

Montana State College and United States Department l7f Agriculture cooperating.

Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress. May 8 and June 30. 1911.


Introduction Alfalfa is an important crop in Mont~na and ranks.....-J next to wheat in the total annual income d~i:+ved from the seed and feed it produces. Its value is taken for granted " and little is done to make the crop produce maximum returns. Alfalfa seed is occasionally produced in all sections of the state, but it is best adapted to the eastern part of Montana and the Flathead area in Sanders county.

Growing alfalfa for seed fits in with the production of range livestock and has a stabilizing influence on livestock production in Montana. The production of alfalfa seed is a side line and not a major enterprise. As such its value increases, for at best the production of seed is uncertain, for only when conditions are right is seed produced. Some factors affecting seed production may be controlled, others cannot. In this bulletin there are set forth some suggestions and recommendations which producers of this commodity have learned through years of experience in producing seed.

Alfalfa Seed Production By


Extension Agronomist Adaptation. Alfalfa seed is being produced on all types of soils found in the seed producing area. A sandy loam soil of sufficient depth to allow the alfalfa roots to penetrate deeply will give the best results. Avoid shallow soils with hardpan layers. Bottoms, draws, and coulees make ideal locations for alfalfa fields. Bottoms that flood during the spring runoff, or that can be placed under a flood irrigation system, offer ideal locations for planting alfalfa for seed production. Alfalfa in mws on benchland has produced good yields when moisture conditions were favorable. This system still has possibilities. Alfalfa is a heavy user of water and will produce best when the average annual precipitation is 15 inches or over. When less moisture than this is available, thought should be given to locating fields where some advantage can be obtained from drifted snow, flooding, and run-off water. A little additional moisture often means the difference between a crop of seed and a failure.

Alfalfa Varieties and Quality Seed If Montana is to maintain its reputation as a producer of quality alfalfa seed, then more time and effort must be spent on producing this crop. Nearly all seed produced at present is Grimm, Cossack, Ladak, Ranger or Montana Common. The first four named varieties are all registered by the Montana Seed Growers association. * Varieties Ladak.-The highest yielding variety of alfalfa in areas of Montana where one or two crops of hay are produced annually.

*The Montana Seed Growers association is a growers' organization which handles the regUilatory work in the registration of small grains, legumes and grasses.


It is winter hardy, drought resistant and moderately resistant to bacterial wilt. It is a variegated alfalfa with a high percentage of yellow and white blossoms. This variety was introduced from India, and grown at the North Montana Branch Station at Havre, where the seed supplies were produced for distribution in Montana.

Grimm.-A variegated variety which yields slightly less than Ladak and Cossack, but is recommended because of its wide adaptability and generally good performance under Montana soil and climatic conditions. It is not resistant to alfalfa wilt. This variety was developed by W. Grimm in Minnesota from some seed introduced from Germany.

Cossack.-A variegated variety similar in appearance to Grimm, but with greater variegation of blossom. It is recommended generally for Montana because of hardiness, drought resistance, and yielding ability. Cossack is less resistant to bacterial wilt than Ladak. This variety was developed by the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station.

Rang·er.-A new variegated and wilt resistant variety of alfalfa developed by the United States Department of Agriculture in cooperation with various agricultural experiment stations represented in the Alfalfa Improvement Conference. It is second to Ladak in yield of hay at Bozeman and is superior to the other recommended varieties in seed production. While it is recommended primarily for seed production to s.upply eastern markets, it may also find a definite place in the irrigated areas in Montana as a hay crop.

Ranger alfalfa seed production for registration differs somewhat from the system used in registering Ladak, Cossack and Grimm. Its value depends on maintaining its resistance to bacterial wilt. Unless this is accomplished the purpose for. which it was released will have been defeated. In Montana the following

procedure will be followed:

1. All fields planted for seed must be 112 mile from any other variety of alfalfa.

2, Ranger (Syn. 1) is the only generation of seed which is eligible for certification in Montana.

3. All applications for planting must be made through the County Extension Agent's office.

4. All fields must be inspected and the seed produced tagged and sealed by the Montana Seed Growers association.


Fig. l-Foreign seed, except Canad'an,"is unadapted. Note the excellent stand of Montana Grimm on the left and the POOl' stands, because of winter killing, in the second and third rows of Argentina seed and the fourth row of Hungarian seed. KNOW WHAT YOU SOW.

Unless Ranger alfalfa is certified by the certifying agency in the state in which it is produced, the producers in the consuming area cannot be certain of its resistance to bacterial wilt. A very strict adherence to the above procedure will be followed.

Montana common alfalfa is a term applied to all unregistered alfalfa. The genuine common alfalfas produce purple blossoms.

However, most fields of so-called common alfalfa in the state have variegated blossoms, indicating they are either Grimm or a mixture of common and Grimm or Cossack.

All of these varieties produce good seed and have a wide area of adaptation in hay producing areas. To maintain the advantages which Northern grown seed has earned, because of its hardiness and quality, some effort must be exerted to: first, increase the acreage devoted to seed production; and, second, to raise the general standard of the quality of seed offered for sale.

Unless fields are kept clean of noxious and other weeds, the seed of which is difficult to clean out of alfalfa seed, the quality will certainly suffer. Alfalfa fields should be established on clean land with clean seed and rogued to keep them clean.

Montana grown registered alfalfa seed is the cheapest and the best seed to plant-cheapest because it takes less per acre when


you use seed of known purity and germination-best because it is graded, tagged and sealed, assuring the producer of what is in the bag. Whether alfalfa is planted for the production of hay or for seed, it pays to plant the best seed available.

Seed Bed Preparation Alfalfa should be planted on a firm, clean and moist seedbed.

Summerfallow, corn, beet, or bean land furnish excellent seedbeds.

The land should be free from weeds. If it is necessary to kill weeds prior to seeding, cultivate as shallowly as possible. If the soil is too loose after cultivation, the land should be packed. Much alfalfa seed is lost when planted on a loose seedbed. This accounts for the belief that seeding large poundages per acre are essential to a good stand. Do not plant alfalfa in a dry soil. Delay seeding until moisture is present. Alfalfa has a hard seed-coat and seldom furnishes a stand after laying in the ground for a long period. Many times Fig. 2-Alfalfa drilled on creek bottom at 1 to 2 pounds of seed per aere produces a thin stand of large individual plants. Keel' alfalfa stands thin for seed production.

a shower furnishes enough moisture to swell the seed and start germination, but not enough to establish the plant in the soil. A firm soil, filled with moisture, free from weeds and weed seeds, with a cloddy surface mulch of one-half to an inch in depth are the


Fig. 3-Alfalfa for seed in 7-foot rows on benchland produces large individual plant growth conducive to seed production.

requirements for a good alfalfa seedbed. It is far better to keep the seed sealed in the bag than to sow it on a poorly prepared seedbed.

Rate of Seeding Low rates of seeding are essential in alfalfa seed production.

Large individual plants produce the seed and for this reason thin stands are essential.· When planted on benchland in rows, from 7 to 10 feet apart, it should be planted at the rate of one-fourth to one pound per acre.

When planted on creek bottoms that get an annual spring flooding or that are under a flood irrigation system, one to three pounds per acre is sufficient. On land that has a controlled system of irrigation, three to five pounds of seed per acre is the rate recommended for seed production.

Time of Seeding Alfalfa should be seeded from April 15 to May 15. The earlier seedings are best, provided the season breaks early and there is little danger of heavy freezing. Under flood or controlled irrigation systems. fall seeding in stubble is recommended. Moisture is the limiting factor in successful fall seedings. Seedings should be made as soon as the grain crop has been removed to allow the young alfalfa plants to become well established before winter.

Method of Planting Planting should be made in a firm soil containing enough moisture to germinate and establish the plant. Alfalfa seed should


be planted from one-half to one inch deep and the soil firmly packed.

On heavy soils alfalfa seed should be planted shallowly. On benchland, alfalfa should be planted in rows 7 to 10 feet apart.

The spacings should be of such width as will make it easy to cultivate with implements at hand. On bottoms that flood intermittently or that are under a flood irrigation system, the general practice is to drill or broadcast the seed. The same methods apply to controlled irrigation, In row seeding, for small areas, the small garden seeder serves the purpose. On larger areas the corn planter equipped with a home-made attachment is often used. This attachment (Fig. 4) can be made from parts of a grass seed attachment on the grain drill. The regular grass seed attachment on the drill may be used by plugging the proper outlets. When the corn planter attachment is used, blocks should be bolted on each side of the planter shoe to

–  –  –

Fig, 4-Diagram of a row seeder attachment for use on a corn planter. The attachment was worked oult by Grover E. Lewis, former extension agent for Prairie County, and has been used extensively in all alfalfa seed areas 'of Montana.

avoid planting too deeply. Close drilled.alfalfa should be seeded through a grass seed attachment. Drilling is preferable to broadcasting as it permits a more even distribution of the seed on the land and insures seeding at an even depth.


Whenever it becomes difficult to seed at a low enough rate per acre, the seed may be diluted with fine coal screened to the size of alfalfa seed or with millet seed that has been baked in an oven for two hours to kill the germination of the seed.

Nurse Crops Alfalfa should be seeded alone on benchland. The alfalfa stand should be the first consideration. Do not divide the moisture supply between two crops. Some weeds will appear, but they will do less harm than the planted grain crop. The weeds should be clipped as soon as they are high enough to cut with a mower.

Under flood irrigation, a nurse crop may be used if the soil is inclined to wash and there is reasonable assurance of sufficient flood water to serve both crops.' Where there is doubt, seed the alfalfa alone. Under controlled irrigation, alfalfa planted for seed may be seeded with or without a nurse crop. Seeding without a nurse crop is gaining in favor. If a nurse crop is used, seed at one-half to two-thirds the regular rate of seeding small grain per acre. Irrigate to keep the young alfalfa plants growing and disregard the small grain. Cut the small grain for hay.

Cultivation Cultivate alfalfa each year to control weeds and to keep a thin stand. For this work the springtooth cultivator equipped with alfalfa teeth is an 'ideal implement. Cultivate as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. This will give an even weed germination and close the cracks in the soil to prevent moisture losses.

From one to four cultivations may be necessary. The springtooth can be used for the first and possibly the second cultivation. Subsequent cultivations on row alfalfa can be made with a corn cultivator equipped with knife blades., If old stands get too thick, the double disk should be used.

Thick stands do not produce the best yields and regular cultivation will prevent thick stands.

Wbere moisture is very limited, many producers hold back growth until May 20 to June 1. This may be accomplished by continual cultivation. Some growers use a heavy plank float. This system helps conserve moisture.


Application of Water The careful application of water on alfalfa for seed production will increase yields. CarelesslY applied water becomes a detriment.

Seed production in alfalfa requires a slow even growth with the plant reaching the blossom and setting period in a hardened condition. Washy rank plant growth is not conducive to seed production. The soil texture and seasonal conditions will determine the time and amount of water to apply. Each alfalfa field becomes an individual problem and must be handled according to the producer's knowledge of the growing habits o~ the plant.

Fig. 5-The springtooth harrow equipped with narrow teeth is an excellent implement to use in cultivating alfalfa.

Under a flooding system, where the supply of water is spasmodic, one good soaking in the early spring will generally suffice.

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