Organic Seed Treatment for Alfalfa Better Than Chemicals

Editors Note: This article comes to us from Dennis O'Brien of the Agricultural Research Service. It was originally published in the July 2015 issue of AgResearch Magazine. Alfalfa is a $10 billion-a-year crop in the United States and is produced in all 50 states. It fixes nitrogen in the soil, saving an estimated $457 million a year in fertilizer costs, and reduces pests and plant pathogens when rotated between crops of corn and soybeans. Its roots also capture nutrients in the soil so that fewer of them flow into waterways. Producing alfalfa, however, can be challenging. Farmers in the Midwest often plant it early in the spring when the soil is cold and damp. That makes the seeds vulnerable to a number of soil borne diseases. To minimize the damage, most alfalfa seeds are coated with a fungicidal treatment. But the treatment, mefenoxam, is ineffective against the pathogen causing Aphanomyces root rot (ARR) common to Midwestern soils. Demand for organic alfalfa for organic dairy operations is increasing, and alfalfa treated with a fungicide doesn’t qualify. “Many organic dairy farmers would like to expand, but they essentially face a roadblock because of a lack of available organic feed. That is something we would like to address,” says Deborah Samac,

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