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Certified Clover: $3 Now Yields $140 Down The Road

Farmers can earn $140 more per acre per year by growing certified red clover, compared with a less expensive “generic” red clover.

The dollar benefits show up in the third and fourth year after establishment.

“The newer certified varieties of red clover yield more and persist longer than uncertified or unnamed varieties of red clover,” says Dick Smith, a USDA Agricultural Research Service agronomist at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center. “Farmers need to look beyond their savings at the counter,” Smith says.

Medium red clover seed costs $1.56 a pound from one Madison seed company, while certified Marathon seed costs $1.86 a pound. So seed cost would be just $3 per acre more using 10 pounds of certified seed per acre. “The cost of establishing one acre of red clover is about $150,” Smith says.

A stand of a newer named variety, selected for its persistence and yield, will last four years. Stands of unnamed varieties last only two years, so the grower will have higher establishment costs. Also, a newly-developed seed yields better. The first year after establishment, a newer variety and an unnamed variety will both yield 2 tons per acre. By the end of the second year, the unnamed clover yields 3 tons per acre while a newer variety has jumped to 4 to 5 tons. By the third and fourth year, the unnamed variety is gone unless it is re-established.Meanwhile, the newer variety continues to yield 2 to 5 tons per acre. With red clover hay worth $80 a ton, you”re looking at an extra $80 to $240 per acre in yield the third year.

“Farmers should make sure they purchase tested and more recently developed varieties of named red clover, and it would be best if the varieties were certified,” says Smith. “Certified assures a variety is a pure and good quality medium red clover seed.”