Listen up, alfalfa hay growers – Did you ever think you could benefit from alfalfa exports to China? Turns out, this year there may be a back door way for all alfalfa growers to capitalize.
How so, you might ask. Well, surprisingly, you have the trade war to thank. Because of the trade war, China imposed retaliatory tariffs and non-tariff barriers on exports of agricultural goods from the United States. This caused our federal government to develop the Market Facilitation Program, which is designed to provide financial assistance to farmers with commodities impacted by tariffs.
Soybeans are the most well-known and highest ranking among crops covered by the program. However, prior to the trade war, China was the No. 1 importer of alfalfa hay from the U.S. As a result, alfalfa hay also qualifies for Market Facilitation payments.
You don’t need to be involved with selling your hay for export. All alfalfa growers are eligible for payments, including growers who feed all their alfalfa on-farm to their own livestock. Payments are based solely on planted acres as long as conservation compliance requirements are met.
To receive payments, you do need to apply at your local Farm Service Agency office by Dec. 6. In order for your field to qualify it must contain at least 60% alfalfa. Now, at this time it’s unclear how the amount of alfalfa in alfalfa-grass mixtures is going to be determined but it probably will be done locally. If you do apply, make sure you report your acres as alfalfa. Do not report it as alfalfa-grass because mixtures are ineligible for payments.
Take advantage of Market Facilitation payments for alfalfa. They may not be particularly high, but something is better than nothing.
Soybean stubble for cows
After soybeans are harvested, cows sometimes are put out on the residues to graze. Some bean residues are even baled. But how good is this feed?
We’re all familiar with the usefulness of grazing corn stalks, but I see more and more residue from soybean fields grazed every year. And cows seem to like licking up what’s left behind after combining. But frankly, I’m a little concerned that some folks may think their cows are getting more from those bean residues than what truly is there.
The problem is a matter of perception. When most of us think of soybeans, we think high protein. So we expect bean residues will be a high protein feed, too. Unfortunately, the opposite is true; soybean residue is very low in protein.
Soybean stems and pods contain only about 4-6% crude protein, well below the 7-8% needed for minimum support of a dry beef cow. And even though leaves can be up to 12% protein, it’s only around one-third digestible, so that’s not much help. In fact, protein digestibility is low in all bean residues.
Energy is even worse. TDN averages between 35 and 45% for leaves stems, and pods. This is even lower than wheat straw. As a result, cows fed only bean residue can lose weight and condition very quickly. Heavy supplementation is needed to maintain cow health.
Now, this doesn’t mean soybean residues are worthless for grazing or even baled. They can be a good extender of much higher quality hay or silage. But, cattle must be fed quite a bit of higher energy and protein feeds to make up for the deficiencies in soybean residues.
Don’t be misled into thinking bean residues are as good or better than corn stalks. Otherwise, you and your cows will suffer the consequences.
Bruce Anderson is an extension professor with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reach him at 402-472-6237.