Alfalfa offers added value to those who nurture the crop

Bruce Anderson, Extension forage specialist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been studying crops since 1979. He spoke about the benefits of using alfalfa in your crop rotations during the Feb. 18 and 20 Alfalfa U events in Gering, Nebraska, and Dodge City, Kansas, sponsored by High Plains Journal, Alforex Seeds and John Deere.

Anderson emphasized how alfalfa can benefit the following crop without additional inputs. For producers it means they can spend less money and harvest more bushels. Alfalfa leaves the soil in good condition with plenty of residual nitrogen.

With roots running 10 to 15 feet deep, alfalfa gathers nutrients and brings them up to the surface for your following crop to use, he said. If you hadn’t included alfalfa in your rotation, those nutrients would have been left down where your following crop would have never been able to reach.

As deep alfalfa roots die, they leave a passage in the soil improving water infiltration for your next crop. While better water infiltration will help your crops, it also helps the soil, the forage specialist said. Years of row crop planting can leave your soil compacted, creating a physical barrier that is almost impossible for rainfall to penetrate. If water can’t soak into the soil, it takes valuable topsoil, and any residual inputs you’ve applied, with it as it drains into streams, ditches and roads.

“When you have alfalfa in your rotation you’re going to keep that soil protected,” Anderson said.

When a producer factors in alfalfa’s ability to break up disease, insect and weed life cycles, it may seem like it is the only crop needed but Anderson cautions that producer about planting alfalfa only. Autotoxicity is when alfalfa itself produces chemicals that inhibit seedling growth of new alfalfa plants. The time between successful alfalfa plantings is determined by your soil type and rainfall amounts.

Anderson is a firm believer in using alfalfa in rotation with other row crops not only for its environmental benefits but its economic benefits too.

Jennifer Theurer can be reached at 620-227-1858 or [email protected].