The high cost of fertilizer facing producers means that forage and pasture crops are more important than ever for N-fixing in the rotation. With that in mind, companies are producing new forages with better yields, regrowth and disease/pest resistance than ever before.
Every year, the Ontario Forage Crops Committee (OFCC) conducts tests on actively marketed forages. The OFCC is made up of representatives of the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA); the Ontario Forage Council (OFC); the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA); Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA); the University of Guelph; and several others.
Registered OFCC alfalfa varieties for 2009 were “Evermore” (ProRich Seeds Inc.), FSG400LH (Quality Seeds Ltd.), and “Marvel” (Pacer Seeds). Registered 2008 varieties were WL348AP (Growmark Inc.) and 4A421 (Dow Agrosciences Canada Inc.). Year-two composite yield index scores were 106 for Evermore, 101 for FSG400LH, 108 for Marvel and 103 for WL348AP.
Pioneer Hi-Bred’s 54H11 has been tested in OFCC trials as a 2005 variety with a four-year composite yield index score of 104. This is a first-generation lodging-resistant variety that is now available for purchase in Canada.
Pickseed’s Vision, a new release that has not been entered into OFCC trials, placed first in Pickseed’s 2005 Eastern trials and fourth in Western trials that involved 48 varieties from various companies.
All the above varieties were found “highly resistant” to verticillium wilt, phytophthora root rot and bacterial wilt (except 54H11, which is “resistant” to bacterial wilt). However, all were found “susceptible” to potato leafhopper, except Quality Seeds Ltd. FSG400LH, which was found to be “highly resistant.” “This pest is an issue for some growers, especially in the Lake Erie-Niagara area,” says Joel Bagg, forage specialist with OMAFRA. Newer varieties, all from 2007, also found “highly resistant” to the insects included TrailBlazer 4.0 (Pickseed and Pride Seeds), WL345LH (Growmark Inc.) and 53H92 (Pioneer Hi-Bred).
Bagg also points to aphanomyces root rot as a concern to forage growers. “It’s caused by a fungus-like pathogen similar to phytophthora root rot, and considered a major cause of disease in alfalfa seedlings, particularly in wet soil conditions,” he says. Aphanomyces also attacks adult alfalfa plants and can dramatically reduce yield and vigour of established stands.
Bagg notes that it has been confirmed in a widespread area in the Midwest and northeastern United States, and is likely underestimated as an alfalfa pathogen in Ontario. An OMAFRA survey was initiated in 2009 to determine the extent, geography and race (Race 1 or Race 2, with the latter being more virulent), but no results are available yet. Aphanomyces is managed by using resistant varieties. “Many varieties are resistant to Race 1,” says Bagg. “But far fewer are resistant to Race 2.”
Varieties 53V52 and WL348AP are both resistant to Race 2, which means they are also resistant to Race 1.
The Ontario Forage Council, a non-profit organization composed of producer associations, companies and other agribusiness interests, has funded many years of alfalfa research headed by Dr. Stephen Bowley, an associate professor in the Department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph.
In their April 2009 OFC report, Bowley, graduate student Aaron Bowman and research technician Donna Hancock presented the results of three seasons of studying tolerance to machine traffic, tolerance to liquid manure application and stem physical characteristics.
The team found that maturity and stem diameter differed among all the varieties tested, but that herbage yield, maturity and stem diameter were not correlated. This means that producers for whom maturity and/or stem diameter is an issue in producing a product with certain characteristics, both management (harvest timing) and variety selection should be considered.
The researchers also found two applications of 4500 gallon per acre liquid manure (applied in each of the first two study years) led to an increase in yield for all varieties. The average yield increase was 14.5 percent, with some varieties showing increases as high as 27.4 percent during the three-year experimental period. Manure application without aeration resulted in higher yields than aeration in combination with liquid manure. “For producers, this provides for two additional times of the year (late May/early June and mid-late July) for application or disposal of liquid manure for livestock farms,” the researchers note. They add, however, that although these application times may also cause less nutrient loss compared to late fall or late winter applications, “the impact of these applications of liquid manure on the nutritional composition of the feed and changes in the soil system also need to be assessed.”
Bowman and his team also found that in general, some varieties were very sensitive to machine traffic in terms of yield, while others were relatively unaffected by traffic.
For more information:
Ontario Forage Council: (see 2009 Bowley report under ‘Research’ section): www.ontario-foragecouncil.com
Recent Ontario Forage Crops Committee trials: www.plant.uoguelph.ca/performance_recommendations/ofcc/pdf/ofcc_performance.pdf