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Roundup ready alfalfa gets approval

It was first introduced five years ago, only to be pulled from the market by a court injunction that required an environmental impact statement to be completed. It is done, and Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa is back as of mid-winter and cleared as safe for planting and harvesting.

Many farmers are talking and asking about it, says an agronomist for Croplan Genetics, which is one of the companies that has RR alfalfa available.

“Some people have questioned why we need RR alfalfa, since we cut hay several times a year and think the swather should control weeds,” says Dale Strickler, a forage technical agronomist for Croplan in the Great Plains. “They are right. Alfalfa is very competitive with weeds once it is established. But when it is establishing, in the seedling stage, that's when the RR really works well. It controls the weeds while the little seedlings are getting established.”

Gaining experience

Strickler says a few people planted RR alfalfa five years ago before the injunction, and they are still gaining experience with it. Most of them say they only sprayed with Roundup in the first year when the stand was establishing. Once that was accomplished and they were into the productive years of the stand and cutting the crop several times a year in year two and beyond, the weeds are held in check by frequent cutting.

“Normally, an alfalfa stand will start to thin out in about year three,” says Strickler. “But the people who have had RR alfalfa for five years now say they are not seeing any thinning of the stand. Some say they aren't going to plant any more alfalfa until they can get RR alfalfa seed again. Well, they can, as of this year.”

It costs an extra $40 to $50 an acre to plant RR alfalfa as compared to non-RR, says Strickler. Some who have planted it say they get that back in the first cutting because it is thick and perfect hay. With an extra half ton an acre in one cutting, that would pay for the seed.

“In my Plains area, most producers like to seed alfalfa in August, because that's when there is the least weed pressure,” he says. “Then maybe at 30 days, when the seedlings are up along with any weeds that are coming, they spray with Roundup. That takes care of the first winter annual weeds.

“Then the next spring, when the new stand is really getting going, they might spray again. After that, they're cutting every 30 to 40 days, the weeds are controlled, and they may not have to spray ever again. It's not like corn and soybeans, where you spray every year – maybe several times.”

Only the best

Strickler says alfalfa seed companies made sure not to repeat a mistake of corn and soybean producers of RR seed.

In the early years, RR corn and soybeans had a yield drag (lower yield for RR crops than for non-RR crops). That's because corn and soybean breeders did not put the RR train in the best hybrids and varieties right in the beginning. “With alfalfa, we built RR into the very best genetic lines from the get-go,” he says.

“Most alfalfa stands are taken out after about five years,” he says. “If you can get that early thick stand, I think the RR stands could last at least a couple years longer. The people who planted RR five years ago say it is still going strong at this point because it got off to such a tremendous, thick stand in that first year.”

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