Through the winter months, many producers are choosing what to plant this next growing year. A question I have been repeatedly getting asked, is low-lignin (HarvXtra) alfalfa still worth it in these tough economic times? My answer is always the same, it depends. Let’s talk through your goals and see if it makes sense. Switching all your alfalfa over to low-lignin alfalfa takes years, and many producers have started that process but as margins continue to be low, they keep wondering if the higher seed cost of low-lignin alfalfa is still worth it.

There are two main reasons to consider low-lignin alfalfa. First is the ability to harvest higher quality alfalfa while maintaining tonnage. By continually putting up high quality alfalfa throughout the year it decreases the variability across crops creating a more consistent forage for your cows throughout whole year. It can also help keep purchased feed cost down by helping decrease the amount of highly digestible fiber sources like soyhulls and corn gluten that may be needed in a diet to maintain your cow’s production goals.

The second reason is to work towards increasing tonnage while maintaining quality. When your land base is limited, or your forage inventories are low, growing enough forage for the year is a top priority. By choosing a low-lignin alfalfa, it gives you the ability to delay your typical harvest 7-10 days and allow your crop to grow longer, but the technology behind low-lignin alfalfa allows you to preserve the quality of your forage since lignin content is reduced about 15%. You can also take advantage of decreasing your cuttings from five to four, decreasing the amount of driving on your fields and possibly extending the life of your alfalfa stand.

We all know that getting alfalfa harvested right when it is ready is hard to do because Mother Nature has the main control of when your crop gets harvested or maybe you depend on a custom harvester’s schedule. So even if you do a great job managing your crops, a 3-day rain or having to wait until it’s your turn at harvest time can drop the quality quickly. Low-lignin alfalfa also gives you the big advantage of opening your harvest window by a few days, thus allowing for the unpredictable to happen and still be able to get a good quality forage up.

However, this choice might not be good for everyone. Think of your goals for your business for this next year and in the long term. Then talk with your Ag Partners nutritionist and/or agronomist to see what the best option is for your operation.

by Courtney Duxbury

Dairy Nutritionist