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Southeast: Growing alfalfa in the South? Yes, we can

Kim Mullenix for Progressive Cattle Published on 28 September 2021

Alfalfa is a perennial forage legume suited for hay, silage or grazing management systems. The “Queen of Forages’’ is high-yielding and produces excellent-quality forage with high energy and protein for livestock.

Alfalfa was once a dominant species utilized in the southeast U.S. However, the harsh environment and elevated insect pressure soon eliminated many productive stands, resulting in a decline in alfalfa acreage. In recent years, breeding efforts have resulted in development of new varieties with improved adaptation to growing conditions in the Southeast, making alfalfa once again a desirable legume for this region.

This leads us to revisit the question of “Can alfalfa be grown in the southeast U.S.?” with a resounding answer of “Yes, we can.” Alfalfa may be established in pure stand or interseeded into warm-season perennial grasses such as bermudagrass. Interseeding provides complementary growth by alfalfa in the spring and fall months, extending the growing season length compared to warm-season perennials alone.

Planting alfalfa in the fall when warm-season grasses have slowed growth reduces plant competition and still provides enough moderate temperatures and day length to promote alfalfa establishment success. Alfalfa seedlings need six to eight weeks of good growing conditions before the first hard freeze occurs. Mow or graze warm-season grasses to a short stubble height (about 2 inches) before planting. Then, spray glyphosate at a rate of 9 ounces per acre of 5.5 pounds active ingredient to induce grass dormancy and control weeds in the area. Plant with a no-till drill no deeper than a half-inch. The general recommended seeding rate is 12 to 15 pounds per acre of pure live seed on a 14-inch row spacing for mixed alfalfa-grass stands.

During the year after planting, wait to harvest alfalfa for the first time until it has reached midbloom stage (25% bloom). This will decrease forage quality compared to harvesting at the early bloom stage but allows the alfalfa root system to more completely establish and build energy reserves. There is still time to consider planting alfalfa in most parts of the southeast U.S. For more information on alfalfa in the South, visit secattleadvisor.com to view our “Frequently Asked Questions” and “Establishment Checklist” on this topic.

The incorporation of alfalfa into the southeast U.S. is a current research focus of a multistate team from the University of Georgia, Auburn University and the University of Florida. Check the web resource above for periodic continued updates and programs on alfalfa in the southeast U.S.  end mark

Kim Mullenix
  • Kim Mullenix

  • Extension Beef Specialist/Associate Professor
  • Auburn University
  • Email Kim Mullenix

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