Interseeding Triticale and Alfalfa

Posted: January 21, 2008

Paul H. Craig,
Extension Agent - Forage Crop Production,
Dauphin County, Pa
October 25, 2002

In 2001 I had an opportunity to visit the University of Maryland’s Clarksville Facility.
One of the most interesting trials I observed was looking at an interseeding of triticale into an
existing alfalfa stand following the last fall harvest to increase first cutting yields. This work
began in the fall of 1996 and has shown some very impressive results. With extremely short
forage production in 2002, this practice may be very handy next spring following a winter/spring
of feeding stored feeds. In the fall of 2001 I convinced a Dauphin County dairyman, Tom
Williams, to try overseeding some of his stands of alfalfa and he was very pleased with the
results this spring.

The initial response from producers about overseeding triticale is that older, thinner
stands would be best suited for the practice. Work at Maryland has shown, however, that there is
an advantage to this practice on even younger stands of alfalfa, 1 to 3 years, without any
detrimental effects to the alfalfa. Here’s how it works, based on Maryland research.
Following last harvest, triticale is sown at 50 to 60 pounds per acre into newer stands of
alfalfa (1 to 3 years old) and 80 pounds/acre into older, thinner stands. Then in the spring,
additional nitrogen is top dressed to get optimum production of the triticale. On newer stands,
highest production has resulted from the addition of 50 pounds of Nitrogen. On older alfalfa
stands, with higher triticale seeding rates, optimum yields were achieved with the addition of 120
pounds of nitrogen. In one trial, yields of first cut alfalfa, without triticale but with 80 pounds of
nitrogen was 1.93 tons/acre, with triticale and 80 pounds of nitrogen yields were 2.79 tons/acre
of forage and 80 pounds of triticale and 120 pounds of nitrogen yielded 3.22 tons/acre. Forage
analysis of the triticale/alfalfa silage cut at the late boot stage, in the 2000 crop was 24.1% CP.
33.1%ADF, 42.9%NDF.

Maryland faculty feel the addition of nitrogen is the secret to success of the alfalfa stand
persistence. They believe that although alfalfa can “fix” nitrogen, there does not appear to be
sufficient nitrogen for the companion crop. Other benefits include an improvement in the first cut
harvest efficiency and cleanliness without any lodging. The triticale supports the alfalfa and
keeps it standing. This upright position results in less leaf shading and leaf loss. The upright
position also results in better air circulation within the stand that keeps the lower part of the plant
and the soil surface drier. The triticale also offers good winter annual weed competition in older

Why triticale and not rye? Triticale is 2 to 3 weeks later in reaching maturity than rye and
does not reach fully headed as quickly as rye, thus providing a wider harvest window more
closely related to the optimum time to make first cutting of alfalfa. Triticale is taller than wheat
or barley and thus has a higher yield potential. And the optimum harvest stage for wheat and
barley is later than the desired time for alfalfa.