Submitted to: Forage Focus
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 20, 2012
Publication Date: December 1, 2012
Citation: Russelle, M.P., Samac, D.A. 2012. What's holding us back? Raising the alfalfa yield bar. Forage Focus. December issue. p. 8-9. Technical Abstract: Measuring yield of commodity crops is easy – weight and moisture content are determined on delivery. Consequently, reports of production or yield for grain crops can be made reliably to the agencies that track crop production, such as the USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The situation with forages is not as simple. Commercial hay growers likely know the weight and moisture content of the loads they sell, but for those who feed forages to livestock directly, it is assumed that not many weigh their hay or determine moisture content. Data obtained from the Census of Agriculture suggests that the hay and haylage yields reported do not accurately reflect the yields being obtained on farm. Additionally, cultivar variety trials indicate that there is a two- to threefold yield gap between state average yields and the yield potential of current cultivars. Field condition (drainage, pH, fertility, compaction, etc.), cultivar selection, harvest management, and pest control all affect crop yield. Plant diseases, are clearly reducing yields in the US. However, we lack information on which factors are impacting yields within a field and between neighboring farms. A new research initiative is needed to determine: 1) actual on-farm alfalfa yields; 2) what factors are limiting alfalfa yields; and 3) educational and economic approaches to reducing the yield gap.