“In the past, multifoliate alfalfas came with a 4 or 5 fall dormancy rating, meaning it wakes up early and goes to bed late. For people south of Lethbridge, you’d get three or four cuts per year, maybe a fourth,” Lutterotti says. “Inherently, creeping-rooted alfalfa was the most winter hardy there was, but those varieties were best suited for lower-yielding two-cut systems. Now we have a very high-quality alfalfa — dairy quality — that’s still at that 4 fall dormancy rating, but you have a winter hardiness below 2, which is as a good or better than any creeper on the market. This gives you lots of options as to your farming system, and it can be used in many different regions.” Regional differences are the key to knowing what alfalfa variety is best for Western Canada, Lutterotti adds. If the alfalfa crop is meant for short-term growth, moderate winter hardiness is usually adequate. For long-term stands, a lower winter hardiness rating is often a good idea, but it can depend on a couple factors, he notes. “In regions with more snow, a lower winter hardiness rating may not provide much additional protection, but you never know. You don’t want the grower to just assume that they’re going to get a lot of snow cover next winter. You might not get as much snow in a given year, so it might be a good idea to go with an alfalfa that can withstand exposure to the cold better.” He recommends retailers work with their customers to determine the variety that is the best fit for their specific situation. Popular varieties include Compass, with ultra-winter hardiness and fast regrowth. GE alfalfa isn’t the only product FGI is working on. It’s also making strides with conventional alfalfa, an example being an attempt to offer stronger resistance to Anthracnose stem rot. Anthracnose of alfalfa is caused by Colletotrichum trifolii. This fungus can attack leaves, but most characteristically attacks stems and crowns. While resistance has been built in to many varieties of alfalfa on the market, Peterson notes it’s beginning to break down in some lines. The disease is rare in Western Canada, but is more prevalent in the eastern United States and Eastern Canada. “Even with Aphanomyces root rot, which has been around for over 20 years, the industry is finding there’s still a lot to be gained by breeding new varieties resistant to additional races of this important disease,” says Mike Peterson, global traits lead for FGI. Improving Yield, Persistence and Quality The advances in alfalfa products like high-quality winter hardy varieties are due in part to the hard work of people like Annie Claessens, forage breeder at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Quebec Research and Development Centre. Claessens is part of a multidisciplinary team of researchers constantly working to improve the forage crop on a number of fronts. Like breeders of most other crops, alfalfa breeders are working to boost yields. The key to doing so is lowering the dormancy, Alfalfa from the breeding program. Photo courtesy Annie Claessen 26 www.seed.ab.ca | Advancing Seed in Alberta AlfalfaMarketaShiftingOne ToddHyraremembersthedayswhenthealfalfaseedmarket lookedalotdifferentthanitdoesnow. “Atonepointintime,SeCanwasquiteinvolvedwithseveral foragecrops,butthemarkethasshiftedoverthelast10-15 years,”saysHyra,WesternCanadabusinessmanagerfor SeCan,thelargestsupplierofcertifiedseedtoCanadian farmers.“Now,theindustryhasconsolidatedandthereare fewerforageseedcompanies.Thedominantoneshavetheir ownproprietaryforageproducts.” Still,SeCancontinuestoofferahandfulofconventional alfalfaseedvarietiesthatHyrasaysareworthnoting:AC BlueJ,atraditionaltrifoliate,taprootedalfalfavariety;AC Dalton,whichhasimprovedverticilliumwiltresistance comparedtoBeaverandBarrier;ACYellowhead,whichhas ahigherproteincontentthanBeaver,RamblerorHeinrichs; andPeace,alsohighinprotein.Thelattertwovarietiesare extremelywinterhardy. “Tryingtobreakthewinterhardiness/falldormancysplithas beenamajordriverofinnovationinalfalfaforawhilenow,” Hyrasays.“There’sbeenahugeshiftinthealfalfaindustry overtheyears,andwhileSeCandoesn’tplayasbigaroleas weusedto,it’sgreattoseetheinvestmentinthepotentialof thecrop.It’safuncroptoworkwithandit’sencouragingto seethatinnovationhappening.”