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New Alfalfa Genetics

Are you faced with having to reseed alfalfa stands damaged last year by excessive moisture and bale-moving equipment? The upside is you have some new alfalfa genetics to select from that offer improved yield, persistence, disease resistance and feed value.

Here’s a short survey of what’s new in alfalfa.


Pickseed screens 35 to 45 alfalfa varieties every year in regional testing trails at three locations in Ontario, three in Quebec and four in Western Canada to come up with one or two worth putting on the market. Their latest additions are Vision and Leader.

Visionwas introduced in limited quantities last year and seed is still somewhat limited this spring due to the Prairie’s miserable 2010 growing season. It boasts a 108 per cent yield advantage over check varieties in head-to-head field tests across Canada, with an average annual yield of about 1,000 pounds per acre more than the other varieties, ranging from 11,500 to 12,000 pounds per acre.

Vision is rated at 1.5 for winter hardiness; 4.4 for dormancy, and excellent for mulifoliate expression. With a disease resistance index (DRI) of 30, it has resistance or high resistance to all major diseases and insect pests with the exception of the spotted alfalfa aphid.

Leader,introduced in 2008, is the company’s current leader in balanced traits for yield, persistence, regrowth and quality for milk yield and beef production. With multifoliate expression greater than 85 per cent, Leader’s relative feed value is 105 per cent that of check varieties.

It is rated 1.3 for winter hardiness and 3.7 for fall dormancy. With a DRI of 30 Leader is highly resistant to all six alfalfa diseases.

The general guidelines for Vision and Leader are to sow inoculated seed one-quarter to one-half inch deep into a firm seedbed at 10 to 12 pounds per acre. Both do best in well-drained soils and have some tolerance to saline and alkaline soils. They should be fertilized with phosphate, potash and sulphur at seeding and annually according to soil test recommendations.

Vision and Leader are well adapted to multiple cuts for hay or silage. The best hay quality will be when it is cut at 10 per cent bloom. For grazing, the recommendation is to leave 10 to 15 centimetres behind.


BrettYoung’s newest entry into the alfalfa market is 4020MF.It is brand new to Canada with limited seed available this spring. It has a DRI of 30, with high resistance to the six major alfalfa diseases as well as aphanomyces root rot race 2. It is rated at 1.8 for winter survival and 4.0 for fall dormancy. With a high degree of multifoliate expression it is a high yielder and suitable for multiple-cut applications in areas with adequate moisture. BrettYoung recommends 4020MF for hay production when your top priority is high-quality feed production.

BrettYoung introduced hybrid alfalfa to Canada in 2003 with HybriForce-400 bred by Dairyland Seeds of Wisconsin. New for 2011,HybriForce 2410bumps yields to a new level with the average annual yield being five per cent greater than HybriForce-400.

HybriForce 2410 combines high yield and quality in a fine-stemmed plant that makes a dense bale and packs better in silage bunks than courser alfalfa varieties. It is rated 3.6 for fall dormancy, 1.6 for winter survival and comes with a DRI of 30.

The concept behind hybridization is to control pollination to capture the advantages of hybrid vigour in the seed — quicker germination, aggressive growth — shortening the days to harvest and improved recovery after cutting, says René Mabon, agronomic manager for BrettYoung.

All of BrettYoung’s alfalfa varieties come pretreated with Ultracoat — a seed coating that includes phosphate, a fungicide and inoculant to get the seedlings off to a vigourous start. Aside from the safety perspective of not having to treat the seed yourself, Ultracoat helps with accurate seed placement by improving the flow of the seed through the drill. The bright green colour also makes the seed easier to see in the soil.


Northstar has introduced three new alfalfa varieties to Canada within the past three years and is in the process of registering another with improved tolerance to saline soils.

Tophand,introduced three years ago, is adapted to a wide variety of growing conditions and soils. Kevin Elmy, a seed grower and distributor from Saltcoats, Sask., says Tophand’s deep-set crown makes it an ideal choice for pastures and hayfields subject to damage from hoof action or haying equipment. It is a branchy plant with a high degree of multifoliate expression that regrows quickly after cutting or grazing. It is highly resistant to the six alfalfa diseases, has a winter hardiness rating of 2.0 and fall dormancy rating of 3.3.

Response WT (wet trait),introduced two years ago, is a high-yielding alfalfa bred with the branch-rooted trait for use on poorly drained soils where excess water limits oxygen and nutrient exchange. The branch-rooted trait helps keep more of the root system above the water table and enables the root system to adjust to increasing or decreasing moisture conditions. This helps the plants stay firmly rooted in wet soils that can break down with repeated freezing and thawing.

This trifoliate alfalfa is rated 2.0 for winter survival and 3.6 for fall dormancy. It is highly resistant to all but aphanomyces root rot and is resistant to pea aphids.

Stealthbred by CalWest has been available for two years in Canada. It is a big-leafed, multifoliate variety with the StandFast trait for fast regrowth, up to 0.5 centimetres per day faster than conventional varieties. As a result Stealth can be ready to cut or graze three to five days earlier than other varieties. It has a dormancy rating of 4.0 with a winter survival rating of 2.1 and is resistant or highly resistant to the six major diseases.


Halo,also bred by CalWest, has stepped-up salt tolerance. CalWest’s own trial data shows that when sown in soils with low to moderate salinity, Halo exhibits a 20 per cent yield improvement over salt-susceptible varieties.

It offers improved salt tolerance in a variety that has been yield-and traffic-tested in three-and four-cut systems under irrigation. However, it won’t tolerate flooding or prolonged wet conditions on heavy soils. It is rated at 4.0 for fall dormancy, 2.5 for winter hardiness, with multifoliate expression of 84 per cent.

LegenDairy 5.0,bred by Forage Genetics International, is a high-performance alfalfa new to Western Canada that is available only in two of Viterra’s pre-formulated alfalfa blends. In U.S. trials pure stands produced a relative feed value of 154 combined with annual yield of 7.58 tons per acre. It has a multifoliate expression of 85 per cent, is rated at 3.0 for fall dormancy, and has excellent resistance to a number of pests.


Pioneer Hi-Bred has introduced three new varieties during the past two years:54Q32, 55V12 and 55V48.Its rating system is somewhat different from those used by other companies. Winter hardiness is rated as hardy, moderately hardy, very hardy or extremely hardy. Disease and pest resistance are rated as resistant, moderate and excellent. All three varieties are characterized as very winter hardy with excellent resistance to the six major alfalfa diseases.

All are well suited to multiple-cut systems for hay or silage. Varieties in the Q series are promoted for the highest quality traits, while the V series varieties have traits for the fastest regrowth, explains Ellis Clayton, technical product manager at Saskatoon.

He reminds producers that the ideal protein and highest quality will be preserved by cutting alfalfa at the bud stage. The tonnage per cut may be somewhat less than that when harvest is delayed into the bloom stage, however, harvesting at the bud stage also reduces the number of days between cuts and may yield an additional cut in an ideal growing season.

54Q32 will retain its quality better than most other varieties if harvest is delayed beyond the bud stage. 55V12 features good early spring growth combined with improved lodging resistance, which helps to reduce quality and yield losses when harvest is delayed. 55V48 is widely adapted and exhibits excellent resistance to the pea aphid, while 55V12 is moderately resistant and 54Q32 is resistant.



DRI, the disease resistance index, measures the resistance to the six major diseases of alfalfa in North Amaerica — bacterial wilt, verticillium wilt, phytophthora root rot, fusarium wilt, anthracnose and aphanomyces root rot. A DRI of 30 is the highest rating possible. Bacterial wilt, fusarium wilt and phytophthora root rot can be problems in the south and central Prairies and Eastern Canada. Verticillium wilt is found in pockets of south central B.C., southern Alberta, Manitoba and Eastern Canada.

Insect pests include the potato leafhopper, stem nematode and root knot nematode, mainly in southern regions and Eastern Canada and the pea aphid and spotted alfalfa aphid, mainly in the south and central Prairies and to a lesser extent in Eastern Canada.

Fall dormancy is measured by determining how tall alfalfa grows in the month following a September 1 cutting. Varieties with earlier or more dormancy have lower ratings and will remain short and low-yielding throughout the fall period, even under favourable growing conditions. Varieties with later or less dormancy and higher ratings will typically continue to produce yield in the fall, green up earlier in the spring and recover more quickly between cuttings throughout the growing season than those with greater dormancy.

Varieties with fall dormancy ratings in the two to four range are most suited to multiple-cut systems in Canada.

Winter hardiness measures the plant’s ability to survive the winter without injury. Winter-injured plants may survive the winter, but the buds formed in the fall for spring regrowth may be killed. If that happens, the plants will have fewer shoots for the first cutting, thus reducing the yield.

Winter hardiness is measured and mapped into geographical zones on a scale of 1 to 6. A rating of 1 indicates that the variety is very hardy with the best adaptation to northern climates, while those rated at 6 are the least hardy and generally recommended for southern areas.

The best strategy would be to choose less-dormant varieties that meet your winter survival needs.

Multifoliate expression is a term used to describe the degree to which a variety will exhibit its full genetic potential to produce mores leaves per stem across a stand. Typically, alfalfa varieties produce three leaves per stem. The newer varieties can produce up to seven per stem, though each individual plant in the stand may have three, five or seven leaves. More leaves with less stem equates to lower fibre content, which improves the fibre digestibility of the forage.

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