Adoption of Improved Alfalfa Establishment Method

Stephen K. Barnhart, Faculty, Agronomy

For many producers in Iowa, their forage production management is a much lower priority for production imputes and learned skills than are those for their corn and soybean crops.  Following traditional forage production management practices is common on many farm units.  Using an oat grain companion crop when establishing hay and pastures is one traditional practice that often leads to excessive competition from the companion crop, poor seedling growth, and the subsequent use by the producer of marginally productive stands for several years.  Improving establishment management has been a goal of Dr. Barnharts for the past 25 years. 

Dr. Barnhart, in his position as ISUE Forage Programs specialist, has been emphasizing  forage establishment topics in his Extension and applied research programming, in an effort to increase adoption of improved forage establishment methods , by clients. An alfalfa establishment methods commonly refereed to as clear seeding is a proven herbicide-assisted method that uses herbicides to manage weed competition, without the accompanying shade competition that comes with traditional cereal grain companion crops.

Program efforts have included diagnostic schools, summer workshops and winter short courses targeting the agribusiness professional working with the top forage producers in the state.  Producer-oriented meetings and field days continue to be held, supported by field demonstrations, publications, and educational efforts from Iowa State University Extension Field Specialists and campus-based state staff from several Departments, and from agribusiness stakeholders.  Traditional Extension methods such as personal contacts, and the mass media continue to be employed.

Change and adoption of new crop production practices generally come in relation to the perceived economic return.  Forage crops have generally not been viewed as a profit center; by very many producers; rather simply crop enterprises that support one or more of their livestock enterprises.  The exception has been the increasing number of cash hay producers and the dairy producers who see that high quality hay and silage production are integral to the profitability of their enterprises.  These latter two groups of clients have been adopting improved alfalfa production practices, including herbicide-assisted establishment methods. Agribusiness and producer client groups indicate that over the past 25 years, the use of herbicide assisted alfalfa establishment has increased from virtually none to now about 20% Iowas 1.8 million alfalfa acres being planted using herbicide-assisted practices. Producer cite more rapid establishment, better stand densities, and more productive alfalfa stands as the reasons that they are adopting

142 -- Integrated Pest Management/Integrated Crops Management

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