Our growing season is too short to plant and harvest seed in the same season. The alfalfa needs a year to establish, so we inter-crop it with wheat. That gives us income in the establishment year, the alfalfa has its own row, and the wheat smothers everything between the alfalfa rows. The heads are clipped off the wheat, the alfalfa rows keep growing, and the stubble traps snow for the next year’s crop.
Alfalfa Seed Production takes 2,200 acres of our land, and we grow wheat, malt barley and canola on another 4,800 acres. This gives us a 3 or 4 year break between alfalfa rotations to get rid of any alfalfa volunteers from previous alfalfa seed production.
Our farm is the core of what makes all of this possible. Some of the land we farm has been in our family over 100 years. We own over 75% of the 7,000 acres we farm. The fields are rotated through other crops, but the focus is always on bringing each field back into alfalfa seed production. The large farm base gives us room to give each variety the isolation it needs to eliminate any cross pollination. GMO alfalfa varieties are not allowed for any hay or seed production here, so the risk of that contamination is kept minimal. TimberLane Farms owns and operates the farming part of the business.
So What Does It Take to Grow Alfalfa Seed? Start with the cleanest, most weed free and clover free land you can find. We plant your alfalfa seed at only 1 lb/acre in rows spaced 3’ apart.
The next year will be the first year of alfalfa seed production. Weed control in alfalfa seed is not easy. One of our techniques is to apply glyphosate between the rows.
That machine you see was developed here at our farm, built in our shop. It works excellent. Unfortunately, there are usually weeds or clovers growing the alfalfa seed rows. The only way to get them is to employ the young, strong, neighborhood kids pulling out those weeds by hand.
The crop requires pollination, so our leafcutter bees are on the job when the alfalfa comes into bloom. Alfalfa seed growing also has its share of bad bugs like alfalfa weevils, lygus and plant bugs, aphids and grasshoppers. Keeping the bad bugs away without killing the leafcutter bees can be really challenging. Alfalfa is susceptible to various plant diseases, so one or more applications of fungicide are usually necessary. The input bill can steep by the time the crop is ready for the harvester. The final touch is usually desiccation to dry down the crop so it can be straight cut.
Harvest time is the report card time for a farmer. If it was a wet year, with bugs, weeds, a bit of hail and a touch of frost, you dream about next year. But if you’ve done your best, and Mother Nature has co-operated, alfalfa seed yields can make for some really big smiles. When that happens, harvest time is the best time.
We wait til the alfalfa gets 15” – 20” tall, so all the weeds are big and growing to ensure we get a good kill. This is pretty tricky as you can’t get any glyphosate on the alfalfa plants.