Evaluating a single-pass alfalfa-corn silage intercrop to enhance forage production, profitability, and soil and water health

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $14,355.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Hurtgenlea Ltd.
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Adam Hurtgen
Hurtgenlea Ltd.


  • Agronomic: corn, medics/alfalfa, soybeans


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, cropping systems, intercropping
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: quality of life, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    This trial addresses three common problems for livestock operations with the strategic addition of continuous living cover. First, we want to increase conservation efforts for our community. Our manure management plan prioritizes proper nutrient application on sloped land and near waterways originating on our farm to protect public water supplies downstream. This intercropping system would further limit soil and nutrient displacement, especially on sensitive land for public health.

    Second, our farm produces more nutrients than we can apply to our cropland. We are hoping to increase total forage produced per acre and therefore optimize nutrient uptake year-round. The goal is to increase plant nutrient uptake while alleviating negative consequences of the winter fallow period, such as erosion and depletion of soil organic matter and nutrients.

    Third, our herd size demands more forage than we can produce with conventional cropping systems given our farm size. In addition to the forage we grow, we purchase 400 acres of first-cut alfalfa, 25 acres of corn silage, and 300 tons of dry hay to properly feed our 300 calves and cows. This system aims to use the unutilized interrow spacing in corn silage systems to increase feed production and land use efficiency.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Hurtgenlea SARE grant diagram

    Solution: We will trial an alfalfa-corn silage system for a single-pass total mixed ration beginning in spring 2023 for 23 months. As days stay warmer for longer periods, we will assess the viability for an additional alfalfa harvest after the corn silage/alfalfa harvest. We have 4.4 acres for the trial (MyB Miami and MbP McHenry silt loam, 2-6% slopes, and Ph Pella silt loam, 0-2% slopes, at GPS coordinates 42°7’N 88°4′ W), with three randomized replications of each treatment. The five treatments include 30” corn silage control, spring-planted alfalfa control, 60” corn silage at the same population as the 30” corn silage, 30” corn silage with alfalfa, and 60” corn silage with alfalfa with at the same population as the 30” corn silage.

    Spring soil samples will be pulled before field activities begin to collect baseline soil data for each treatment –N, P, K, pH, OM, CEC, and aggregation.  Sampling at the end of the project will detect any soil health changes. Soil organic matter will estimate soil carbon.

    Liquid manure is spread in the fall with semi-trucks, while solids are spread with a side-discharge manure spreader and for corn-only acres incorporated with a Lemken tillage tool.

    We will interseed shade tolerant and glyphosate-resistant alfalfa for establishment into corn in the first year by V1, using a shorter-day corn hybrid to minimize corn canopy shading on the alfalfa stand in the spring and fall. In the second year, we will strip till the corn seed bed and mildly chemically suppress the alfalfa stand to protect the corn plant during the critical period for weed control. Each row in our custom harvester’s Lemken planter can be turned off and on, making the trial configuration of 30” and 60” corn rows possible. 

    Herbicide for the corn silage and alfalfa controls will follow chem plans recommended by our Certified Crop Adviser, Jake Standal, Liqui-Grow Location Manager. We have consulted with Jake and Corteva Agriscience for a herbicide management plan in the intercropped systems, and will use glyphosate-resistant alfalfa for better weed control.

    Our custom harvester uses a CLAAS 8-row forage harvester. Treatments will be stored separately in plastic silage bags. We will fill at 750 lbs. pressure to keep replications separate and mark by treatment, plot, and replication. A drive-over scale will weigh total yield per plot, and a Koster Moisture Tester will read moisture from each plot sample to back-calculate dry matter.

    Our long-time feed nutritionist, Bob Hagenow with Vita Plus Corporation, will help us assess feed quality. We will take plot samples four weeks after bagging and submit them to Rock River Laboratory for the Near Infrared (NIR) Spectroscopy Comprehensive Nutrition Package for silage and forage analysis (protein & amino acid, carbohydrates, minerals & ash, and fermentation products).

    Corteva Agriscience is providing corn seed and chemistry expertise, Liqui-Grow for alfalfa varietal selection and management, plus support in data analysis from Iowa State University and machinery development from Case IH engineer Bryan Browntree. Our Walworth County Senior Conservation Technician, Brian Smetana, is providing conservation and outreach expertise.



    • Compare alfalfa-corn silage intercropping treatments at 30” and 60” spacing through field testing with controls
    • Evaluate system viability as a proof-of-concept project for profitability, forage yield, and soil health/quality
    • Measure soil health with a comprehensive package at the beginning and end of the trial
    • Conduct one field day per year with handouts for farmers, university researchers, conservation experts, and input suppliers
    • Share research results with university researchers, conservation experts, and input suppliers
    • Assess protein replacement from alfalfa and supplement costs, noting animal performance when feeding
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.