Southeastern Hay Contest Winner: First-Place Forage
Georgia producer grows “off-the-charts” alfalfa.
By Des Keller | Photos By Jamie Cole
After decades of raising cattle and growing hay, Ronnie Green still is reaching higher when it comes to innovating and improving his farming operation. The north Georgia farmer only began planting nutrient-rich alfalfa on his 28-acre Flatwood Farms in 2013, but this past fall, he recorded the highest relative forage quality (RFQ) for alfalfa in the annual Southeastern Hay Contest, presented at the Sunbelt Ag Expo.
RFQ is only measured up to 300, so Green’s score of 343 is technically off the charts and a best estimate beyond the official calibration. (By comparison, the second-place finisher in the alfalfa hay category in 2018 had an RFQ of 283.) RFQ, the gold standard for measuring forage quality of all types, is an index that uses two factors for measurement: total digestible nutrients (TDN)—which is a measure of digestible energy—and a calculated prediction of dry matter intake (DMI).
The win is a good one for Green, a 74-year-old salesman who raises cattle and hay while operating a forage-supply business. Sitting at the kitchen table in the 120-year-old farmhouse his grandfather built outside Murrayville, he admits to an initial reluctance to grow alfalfa.
“The theory was that alfalfa was too difficult to grow in north Georgia,” Green says. “But the attempts to grow it … involved using Northern varieties not adapted to this region.”
Seven years ago, however, Green heard Dennis Hancock, Extension forage specialist at the University of Georgia, talk about the promise of new varieties at a state conference. Green liked what he heard and decided to give alfalfa another try.
Green’s Winning Regimen
At Hancock’s behest, Green conducted soil samples on his pastures and applied lime where needed to neutralize soil pH. Alfalfa is an acid-sensitive crop and, when indicated, lime should be applied at least one year prior to planting to allow the pH change to occur.
“We have to have at least a 6.5 pH for alfalfa to do well, and our soils are naturally acidic, like 5.8 pH,” Hancock says. “You have to put lime down well in advance of growing the crop and maintain it by adding a bit more lime back to the soil every couple of years.”
Now, Green samples soil every year and hasn’t had to do much else. “All I’ve done to the alfalfa field is apply lime twice in six years, based on soil tests,” he says. “I haven’t had to put on a bit of nitrogen.”
Right Variety, Great Crop
A year after applying the first allotment of lime, Green planted a new alfalfa variety, Alfagraze 300 RR from America’s Alfalfa, which was engineered to tolerate Roundup herbicide and its generic glyphosate equivalents. The herbicide can then be applied to control weeds in the field without harming the forage.
One 50-pound bag of the genetically-engineered seed was $450 and could plant 2.5 acres. “It’s expensive,” Green says, “but when you consider you only plant alfalfa once every five years, that’s about $36 per acre. You can’t plant corn for that amount, and you won’t get out of corn silage what you get feed-quality-wise out of alfalfa.”
So, what’s the key to Green’s success? “Mother Nature and luck,” he says modestly. “Your timing has to be right for cuttings, fluffing the hay, then raking it up.” More specifically, Green cuts the alfalfa late in the afternoon, rakes or fluffs it the second day to promote drying, then harvests it the third day.
During the growing season, Green will ideally cut alfalfa hay five times, at 30-day intervals, beginning on about May 1. The initial cutting is based on the percentage of the crop that is blooming—25 to 30%. To determine that percentage, he measures this by literally counting the number of blooms on alfalfa plants in a given field within a 3-foot-diameter circle he measures via a polyurethane pipe.
While Green gives plenty of credit for his success to Hancock, the forage specialist returns the admiration. “That’s what fires me up about my job is I get to work with a guy like Ronnie who is 74 and hustling as much as anyone,” Hancock says.
Southeastern Hay Contest
For more information about the Southeastern Hay Contest, along with rules and prizes for 2019, see sehaycontest.com.
The Southeastern Hay Contest presented by Massey Ferguson® is open to entrants from across 13 states. As the 2018 grand prize winner, Ronnie Green was offered, for use during the 2019 season, his choice of one of two pieces of Massey Ferguson equipment: the DM Series Professional disc mower or RK Series rotary rake. Green chose the RK Series rotary rake.
“The rotary rake,” says Tom Kramer AGCO® product specialist, “is the best choice for producers who are focusing on high-quality hay, because it gently lifts the crop and places it into a windrow without engaging the ground and incorporating ash content. The fluffy windrow allows for continuation of the drydown process, provides better feeding of the windrow into the baler and enables faster baling.”