CLEMSON — Bermudagrass is an excellent grass for hay production but it uses a lot of nitrogen, which can cut profits. Clemson University researchers are ready to show producers how to cut costs by growing their own nitrogen.

Clemson researchers show producers how to cut costs by growing their own nitrogen during alfalfa demonstrations Aug. 29 in Seneca and Aug. 31 in Ridge Spring.

Clemson researchers will show producers how to cut costs by growing their own nitrogen during alfalfa demonstrations.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Two events will teach growers how to grow alfalfa with bermudagrass to increase forage quality as well as grow a supplemental feed and/or cash crop. Hosted by the Clemson Oconee and Saluda County Extension offices, the field days take place Aug. 29 at Tokeena Angus Farm in Seneca and on Aug. 31 at Yon Family Farms in Ridge Spring.

“Local farmers have established demonstration plots with alfalfa interseeded into bermudagrass hayfields at these two locations,” said John Andrae, Extension forage specialist. “We encourage everyone to come out and see these fields and the hay we are growing. We’ll have researchers who will talk about how producers can benefit from this type of operation and we’ll have producers onsite who will talk about their experiences.”

During the demonstrations, attendees will be brought to the plots where they will be able to see alfalfa planted in bermudagrass. The same information will be shared at both field days.

“We encourage people to choose the nearest site and come hear about effective ways to use alfalfa to improve bermudagrass hay fields,” Andrae said.

There is no charge to attend these on-farm demonstrations, which begin at 5 p.m. and end with a sponsored meal at 8:30 p.m. Pre-registration is requested. The Aug. 29 demonstration will be held at Tokeena Angus Farm, 3058 Pine Grove Road, Seneca 29678. To register for the Seneca demonstration, call Morris Warner at 864-638-5889. The Aug. 31 demonstration will be held at Yon Family Farms, 318 Aiken Road, Ridge Spring 29129. To register for the Ridge Spring demonstration, call Travis Mitchell at 864-445-8117.

Andrae said there are multiple advantages to growing alfalfa with bermudagrass:

  • Alfalfa eliminates nitrogen fertilizer needs. Interseeding alfalfa into existing bermudagrass stands eliminates the need for external nitrogen fertilizer. Alfalfa fixes nitrogen from the air, providing enough for itself and for transfer to existing bermudagrass.
  • Alfalfa increases hay crop quality. Previous and ongoing on-farm demonstrations reveal that including alfalfa in bermudagrass hay systems increased crude protein 20 percent to 24 percent and Relative Forage Quality (RFQ) to levels of 150 to 240. For reference, bermudagrass had crude protein ranging from 10 percent to 14 percent and RFQ 80 to 120.
  • Bermudagrass fields are not killed, they are only suppressed. Because alfalfa is interseeded into dormant bermudagrass, just like annual ryegrass, establishment financial risks are reduced. If the alfalfa fails, producers still have bermudagrass. If the alfalfa establishes well, the bermudagrass yields will be temporarily reduced due to alfalfa shading, but will gradually fill in the field and resume full yield potential over several years as the alfalfa naturally thins. It’s a win-win situation, both in the short and long-term.
  • Alfalfa lengthens the growing season. Bermudagrass is dormant for more than 120 to 150 days in the southern region. Because alfalfa is a cool season forage it will green up, or emerge, earlier in the spring and go dormant later in the fall. This provides additional hay cuttings. It also shifts one or two forage harvests earlier in the spring when moisture is more dependable, which also decreases production risks. More early cuts translate to more rain damage risk, but also offer a wider and more dependable production window.
  • Bermudagrass aids the alfalfa curing and baling process. The grass component of the forage mixture helps to “hold up” the alfalfa windrows and aid air flow and curing. Including bermudagrass also helps to hold leaves on the alfalfa during tedding, raking and baling which helps to put up higher quality feed.
  • Modern southern alfalfa varieties make this feasible. Focused efforts in southern alfalfa breeding over the past 25 years have resulted in varieties with excellent disease resistance and great production characteristics for the southern region of the United States. There are now multiple varieties that produce and persist in southern production systems.