Alfalfa seed prices range from $150/bag to $350/bag for conventional seed and up to $600/bag for genetically enhanced seed. Is the higher priced seed worth the cost? Absolutely!
The figure shows the yield advantage by age of stand for the highest yielding variety compared to a low yielding variety from University of Wisconsin alfalfa variety trials over the last 30 years. The high yielding variety in the established stands (years 2 to 4) had an average yield advantage was about 2.3 tons alfalfa per year. Depending on hay value of $150 to $200/ton this additional value of premium seed is $345.00 to $460.00/acre per year!
Note that even in the seeding year of a spring seeding the average advantage of premium seed was 1.31 t/a. The additional value of hay from premium seed was $196 to $262 for the seeding year. Thus, premium seed is worthwhile even if a short stand life occurs, either expectedly or unexpectedly.
Data collected at University of Wisconsin sites.
Genetically enhanced traits are also worth the extra seed cost. Roundup ready alfalfa allows for less expensive weed control. It also allows for good weed control over a broader range of weather conditions. This can be particularly useful in a spring seeding when cool weather may slow alfalfa growth but not weed growth, so the weeds grow too large for weed control before alfalfa is large enough for conventional herbicides. Roundup is also good for taking winter annuals out of alfalfa stands.
The HarvXtra trait allows for higher quality alfalfa when harvest is delayed. This can aid when weather is not cooperating or can allow longer intervals between cuttings, using the full growing season to increase yield and possibly reducing the number of cuttings in some regions. The longer cutting interval will also increase winter survival.
Why does premium seed yield more? The reasons are threefold:
Better genetics for yield.
Better resistance to diseases and insects. The older, less expensive varieties tend not to have resistance to the newest races of diseases.
Better winter survival.
All of the reasons increase profitability when using premium seed.