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Forage Variety Testing

Identifying forage varieties that produce high yield and high quality in Pennsylvania’s diverse environment

Forages (legumes and grasses for grazing, hay or silage) cover more acres (4 million) in Pennsylvania than corn, soybean and wheat combined. Forages are the primary feed source for Pennsylvania’s one million dairy, equine, beef and sheep. Forages are also environmentally sustainable because they require very few, if any, pesticides. In addition, they are perennials which provide year-around ground cover and don’t require tilling the soil each year for planting. Adding a forage to a corn and soybean, both annual crops, rotation can reduce soil erosion by 75%. Forage’s perennial nature also means that the decision of which variety to plant will have longer lasting production and economic consequences than an annual crop.

One of the great challenges for farmers is sorting through the many forage species (alfalfa, clover, orchardgrass, timothy etc….) and varieties.  There are over 200 alfalfa varieties currently on the market, within each species.  The overall objective of the Forage Variety Testing program is to identify forage varieties that produce high yield and high quality in Pennsylvania’s diverse environment. This means not only evaluating those varieties that are on the market but those making their way through the breeding process for marketing in the future. Our hope is that any farmer can examine the annual Forage Trial Report from this program and gain unbiased assistance in selecting the best species and varieties for their operation. Funding for this program comes from a fee charged to companies marketing the forage species/variety and from the Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences.

Is the Forage Variety Testing program beneficial?
Over the past 16 years, yield of the top 5 alfalfa varieties in our trials has averaged 1.7 tons per acre more than the yield of the bottom five varieties (see graph). To a producer making variety selections, this difference would amount to nearly $340 per acre per year (assuming a hay value of $200 ton per ton) more income by utilizing our variety trial data to select a variety.

Dry matter yield of the top five and bottom five yielding alfalfa varieties in Pennsylvania trials. Values  are the average of 40 locations/years of data.

About the Researcher:
Dr. Marvin Hall is the extension specialist in forage production and utilization in the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. His work revolves around both annual and perennial forage crops and their interaction with consuming animals. In this role, he collaborates with agencies and organizations throughout Pennsylvania and the Northeast that have forage-related interests. His research is primarily oriented towards the production and utilization of conserved forages. Emphasis currently focuses on issues (seeding methods, rates and dates, weed control, disease control, fertility, seed treatments, and seedling management) associated with forage establishment.  Dr. Hall is active in research and extension, undergraduate and graduate education.

Contact Information:
Phone:  814-863-1019
Email:  mnh2@psu.edu