During a presentation at the Illinois Forage Institute, Dan Undersander, a forage professor emeritus from the University of Wisconsin, told the producers that milk production has doubled every 30 years in the United States since 1935.

Wow, I’ve been reporting about the dairy industry and writing feature stories of Illinois dairy farmers for AgriNews for a lot of years, and although I knew milk production has been increasing, I didn’t know the numbers were that significant.

Undersander noted this increase is partly due to improved genetics of the cows. However, most of the changed is attributed to improved forage quality.

In addition, for cows going above 20,000 pounds of milk production, Undersander said, cow comfort and a few other management practices will become important.

As Undersander discussed management tips for producing high quality alfalfa hay, he noted that most of the reasons for stand failure are the result of operator problems. For example, it is important to seed alfalfa into a firm seed bed.

“A lot of people think following corn, you got to use a harrow, but that’s a loosening tool,” Undersander said. “You need to end with a packing tool prior to seeding.”

Depth control is another important aspect and alfalfa should be planted one-quarter to one-half of an inch deep.

“If you don’t see any seed on the surface after drilling, you’ve seeded too deep,” Undersander said. “I recommend about 10 percent seed should be on the surface when you’re done.”

Undersander said he is quite excited about the low lignin alfalfa varieties.

“I think it’s the first game changer we’ve seen in alfalfa in 30 to 40 years,” he said.

A study showed on average when dairymen switched to feeding low lignin alfalfa to their cows, they gained about four pounds of milk production per day. And, Undersander said, research has shown that the digestibility of low lignin alfalfa always is higher than conventional alfalfa.

As forage producers continue to improve their management practices for growing and harvesting top quality alfalfa, I wonder how much higher milk production will increase. I expect the increasing trend will continue.

Martha Blum can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 117, or marthablum@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Blum.

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