In order to expand my knowledge, I have been reading quite a number of past yield experiments that have been conducted at the various OSU extension offices locally (Madras and Powell Butte). It is very interesting to watch the yields increasing as the past researches brought in the latest varieties, fertilization techniques, and other factors that are involved in farming. One thing that is interesting to me, is how Alfalfa yields seemed to have been bucking the increasing yield trend, and have been holding steady, or even have dropped!
I recently found an old study done between 1970-1974 at the Redmond Extension location as well as Alfalfa, east of Bend about 10 miles. Now I am not 100% sure on this, but I am assuming that the Redmond location is what is referred to as the Powell Butte location now. I will call the extension office in the morning to confirm that. Here is a link to the article.
I found it very interesting that the yields easily hit 6.5 ton , and in other articles I have seen published from the same field site the researchers had hit averages closer to 7.5 ton/acre. The research site has been closed for a number of years, and I am curious to see where it was located because the alfalfa growers in Redmond I have talked to would be thrilled to average even 6.5 ton/yields. On a three cut system, to hit 2+ tons every cutting seems pretty good for the elevation.
The yields in Alfalfa seem to be more consistent with what we would expect today. 5.75 ton/acre would be a reasonable target on clean, well fertilized ground. I think these older yield studies highlight the importance of PH levels in our soils and how years of grass hay and the high N applications used on that grass can affect alfalfa and other crops and severely reduce yields. Some of my leased fields in Tumalo and Sisters that used to grow fine alfalfa back in the 70’s are now down below 5.5 in some cases. It is a a struggle to bring those ph levels back up as well as the overall soil health and I may not even have enough time to do it before the land just gets too expensive to farm! I talked to a grower in Alfalfa this fall about his yields this year. His fields average 5.5-6 tons/acre under pivot and with great care taken to maintain soil fertility and PH. This is at 3300′ elevation. His yields are on par to what the tests showed 40 years ago. Why haven’t his yields increased with the newer varieties and techniques he has implemented? I have been watching videos of the bounding increases in corn and soybean yields in the Mid-West and it encourages me to learn all I can so I too can keep increasing my yields.
The reason all this applies to me and to any other alfalfa farmer in Central Oregon is that there seems to be a wall that we need to push through with our yields. We need to keep learning and applying new tools to help increase the yield and quality of our products in order to stay profitable. What are the factors holding my crops back and how can I reduce or eliminate them next year? That is the question in my mind and maybe one day our yields will greatly surpass those old results.