ROCHESTER, Minn. — Alfalfa adds yield, breaks insect and disease cycles and improves soil condition.
Why isn't it grown on more acres?
One of the barriers is equipment cost, said Bruce Anderson, Extension forage specialist from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Adding alfalfa to a corn-soybean crop rotation can require quite a financial commitment, he said. Corn and soybean producers don't typically own a haybine, baler, rake or tedder.
Anderson spoke at recent Tour de Forage meetings in Richmond, Floodwood and Rochester. More than 40 people attended the meeting in Rochester.
Alfalfa also makes producers wait for returns. Seldom is the first year of alfalfa the most productive or the most profitable. This doesn't fit with the need for instant gratification.
The labor requirements with alfalfa are different than annual crops. It requires different management and a producer can't take a bale of hay to the grain cooperative to sell. Farm programs and crop insurance programs are focused on annual crops.
Higher hay prices may entice farmers who already grow hay to add more of it to their operations, Anderson said. The higher prices make hay competitive with annual crops.
The higher prices have impacted those who feed hay as well. Feeders are conserving hay because it's more expensive and also because it's less available due to the drought.
A lot of good resources are available for farmers who want to add alfalfa to their rotations, Anderson said. Extension offers good how-to guides and seed companies that sell alfalfa seed offer information, too.
Anderson doesn't work much with cover crops, but he said cover crops have value, especially if they are used as livestock feed. The fastest acceptance and use of cover crops has been with livestock producers, he said.
And how's the drought impacting Nebraska? Several producers used two years of their irrigation water quota last year and the statewide soil moisture averages 6 inches to 8 inches blow normal. Nebraska has been the epicenter of the drought, beginning in 2012 and continuing through the present. It wasn't a good fall for winter wheat, which has many concerned. Much of the crop may be tilled up and replanted with another crop.
Anna Parker with USDA Risk Management Agency in St. Paul reviewed risk management options for forage producers.
An insurance pilot program exists for Minnesota and Wisconsin that has to do precipitation, and also plans that cover forage seeding and production.
In 2012, 278,000 acres of forage crops were insured in Minnesota, Parker said. About 12,000 acres were insured in the Pasture, Rangeland and Forage pilot program.
The pilot program uses NOAA data sites and the only peril insured is lack of moisture. It's too late for producers to enroll in this program for the 2013 crop, Nov. 15 is the sales closing date. It's a continuous policy once a person is enrolled, continuing until canceled by the policyholder.
Corn for silage and land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program can't be insured through the Pasture, Rangeland and Forage pilot program.
Premiums for this program are subsidized by the federal government.
Call Parker at 651-290-3304, ext. 229 for more information.
University of Minnesota Extension educator Jim Paulson sent forage producers home from the Tour de Forage with homework.
Figure out where your costs are, Paulson said. Try to get the most out of your homegrown feed supply.
He's a proponent of maximizing forage in cattle diets.
Paulson encouraged producers to determine their forage cost and how they can make the most profit per acre.
According to the recent Ag Census, the most profitable farms had five acres or less and net $500 per acre. These farms raised vegetable crops that required a lot of labor.
What are your cumulative land costs? he asked. It's a figure producers should know.
Corn and soybeans are all the rage now, but he asked producers to reflect.
"Is that the best for your land?" he asked.
Would it be better to have forages in the rotation?
The best economic advantage for Minnesota cattle producers over the next couple of years is growing their own feed, Paulson said.
Unless Minnesota gets rain, 2013 is going to be a tough year, he said.