Dale C. Dahl

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Alfalfa seed has become a farm crop of increasing importance. Total hay acreage in the United States has remained practically unchanged during the past two decades, but alfalfa hay, during this period, has increased by over 100 percent. Accompanying this increased acreage in alfalfa hay, total alfalfa seed production for the United States has nearly tripled. In turn, the incomes of farmers engaged in alfalfa seed production have multiplied approximately three times during the past twenty years. Alfalfa seed is not a homogeneous product. For many years it has been agronomically grouped into "hardy" and "non-hardy" alfalfa seed. The term "hardy" denotes a type of alfalfa that can withstand the cold winter weather predominant in the northern part of the United States. This factor of hardiness is the principal cause of two distinct production and marketing areas. The hardy alfalfa seed primarily has been grown and consumed in northern states while "non-hardy" alfalfa seed has been produced and marketed almost exclusively in the southern part of the United States. In recent years another element of heterogeneity has become evident in alfalfa seed marketing and production. Alfalfa seed has been grouped into "certified" and "non-certified" categories. Certified alfalfa seed means that the seed produced has been regulated and inspected by a state certifying agency. Upon passing rigid inspections, the seed is "certified" to represent a variety of known performance and adaptation. A certified variety has been evaluated for performance characteristics in addition to having fulfilled field and laboratory requirements. Purity requirements for certified alfalfa seed, including freedom from noxious weed seeds, are generally higher than for noncertified seed. Government farm service groups, such as the United States Department of Agriculture, state experiment stations, and county agricultural extension agents, have been recommending that the farmer plant only true, adapted varieties of alfalfa seed for assurance of superior quality and yield. These groups have especially recommended certified alfalfa seed for all farmers and either hardy or non-hardy seed depending on the farmers' location. As a result, the use of certified, adapted alfalfa seed by the United States farmer is becoming more widespread. Alfalfa seed production has increased markedly in the past several years. This increased production is due mainly to the emergence of California as an alfalfa-producing state. California production has climbed rapidly during the past ten years. Row planting and advanced techniques in spraying, irrigating and harvesting have given rise to relatively large yields which have, in turn, led to new advertising and merchandising methods that were virtually unheard of in the alfalfa seed industry before 1950. In 1957 California produced 53.1 percent of all the alfalfa seed grown in the United States. Most important economically, perhaps, is the fact that California has produced a certified alfalfa seed and has been able, through vertical integration, to maintain a continuous supply for its ever growing market. In direct contrast to this. South Dakota and its sister states of North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming have produced a non-certified alfalfa seed which is generally known as "Northern alfalfa seed". Although this four-state area has for many years been considered a primary production area for hardy alfalfa seed, the supply has been unstable. The seed produced in this area is often the result of an after-though on the part of the farmer or rancher. Once his hay needs have been realized, he .may harvest a second crop of alfalfa in the form of seed, weather permitting. This combination of factors has led, gradually but steadily, to a decrease in the market for Northern alfalfa seed. The Northern alfalfa seed, being noncertified, has had to compete with certified seed recommended by agricultural advisers and scientists. A fluctuating supply has had to compete with a more stable supply. A relatively small and unorganized advertising campaign has had to compete with a large, centralized advertising program. The Northern seed producers and dealers have recognized this major problem and are attempting to find means to combat the loss of their markets.

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South Dakota State College


Agricultural Economics