Northern Illinois farmers will usually be more successful seeding hay crops in the spring than in late summer. Southern Illinois farmers will usually be more successful with late-summer seedings than with spring seedings. Central Illinois farmers can be equally successful with either spring or late-summer seedings.

For the best results from your spring seeding, select a top-yielding variety. Yield trials conducted by the University of Illinois provide information on the performance of many different varieties. The high-yielding varieties will likely have vigorous seedlings, a rapid growth rate, and the ability to recover rapidly from drought and insect attacks. Most top varieties also have some resistance to many of the disease and insect pests that attack alfalfa or red clover.

Plant as soon as the seedbed can be prepared. Early April seedings have been very successful in central and northern Illinois. Later seedings are more likely to suffer from dry weather (which can limit plant growth), weed competition, and leafhopper feeding. Southern Illinois farmers should seed in the middle or late part of March if possible.

Before planting, make sure the seedbed has been well prepared. Most of the debris from the previous crop should be incorporated, and the soil should be weed-free and firm, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. A well-prepared seedbed is firm and free of weeds.

It is important to use a good seeder that can be calibrated accurately and that distributes the seed uniformly. A solid stand of alfalfa or red clover will out-yield a ragged stand and will compete with weeds more effectively.

The double--corrugated--roller seeder is an excellent choice for forage crops. It drops seed uniformly between two corrugated rollers. The first roller provides additional firmness to the seedbed, and the second roller pushes the seeds into contact with the soil. Most of the seeds are covered lightly, which is desirable.

For band seeding-another good method-a grain drill with a legume seed box is used. As shown in Figure 2, hoses from the legume box carry the seed to the soil surface, trailing the drill discs. Use the drill to place 50 to 100 pounds of phosphorus fertilizer per acre about 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface. Place the seed directly above this fertilizer band. For best results, packer wheels should follow directly over the seed, pressing it into the soil surface.

Figure 2. Placing high-phosphate fertilizer and seed with a grain drill.

Which is the better seeding method? In the Illinois studies summarized in Table 2, the band seeding method resulted in yields equal to or slightly greater than those obtained with broadcast seedings. Soils that are low in readily available phosphorus have produced better yields with band seeding. Low available phosphorus may result from low natural fertility (as at the Brownstown test site), inadequate fertilization, low pH, or cold, wet soil (as at the DeKalb site).

Table 2. Alfalfa Seeding Methods and Yields at Illinois Test Sites


Location and                          Average annual yield,              
number of trials                   tons of dry matter per acre                     
                             Bond seeding           Broadcast seeding

DeKalb, two trials.............. 4.57                     4.48

Urbana, three trials.............5.60                     5.60

Brownstown, two trials...........3.11                     2.92

To: Choosing a Seeding Rate

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