Dairy School: The Lowdown on Low-Lignin Alfalfa

Ontario dairy farmers had their first opportunity to plant low-lignin alfalfa in 2016.

In this episode of the Real Agriculture Dairy School we visit with Elmira, Ontario, dairy farmer Dale Martin and PRIDE Seeds market agronomist Aaron Stevanus to get the lowdown on low-lignin alfalfa. Martin harvested his first crop HarvXtra low-lignin alfalfa with Roundup Ready technology this year.

A growing body of research shows that low-lignin varieties make alfalfa forage more digestible in the cow’s rumen. In trials, new varieties have demonstrated a 10 to 15% decrease in lignin content. At that level, for example, the USDA Dairy Forage Research Center says US farmers could realize a $350 million per year increase in milk, a significant reduction in manure and significant profit potential.

Although Martin has only limited data, he is quickly becoming a fan of the new alfalfa technology. He’s already observed a higher milk protein component from his cows. “If it feeds like we’re hoping it will, every pound of intake she’s eating is more digestible so there’s more milk. It’s a win for the cow and it should result in more production.”

Martin was very pleased with how the HarvXtra stand established. He believes his decision to plant 20 lb. of seed per acre played a key role. Some farmers opt to plant at a lower rate to reduce cost, but Martin recommends going with a higher seeding rate to get a denser stand: “you’ll get less branching of the alfalfa and a more digestible crop to feed the cows.”

Stevanus notes that the low-lignin variety also allows farmers to push back harvest dates. “You can take it to 10% bloom, which means more yield and we can keep the digestibility stable.” That means farmers can get away with three cuts rather than four while maintaining both quality and total yield.

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