There are many different qualities of forage seed available on the market, so it is important to buy good quality forage seed to make forage-based farming successful from the beginning. Using cheap seed is not a bargain and will end up costing more due to reseeding resulting from low germination rate and high foreign materials in the seed. Sometimes cheap seed also brings in some undesirable weed seeds to the new seedbed. Therefore, it is important to buy high quality forage seed from the beginning to save time, money and energy. Here are guidelines and some things to consider when purchasing good quality forage seed:
Germination: Having a high germination rate is one of the most important things for successful stand establishment. If you buy very low germination rate forage seed, you must buy more seeds. Otherwise, forage seeding might be a failure. You can find out the germination rate for the variety that you are going to buy from the seed tag.
Pure seed: Having a high percentage of pure seed for certain forage variety and species on the label is as important as germination rate. If pure seed rate is low, then you will end up having some other material such as other undesirable crop seeds, weed seeds, inert matter and hard seeds. Pure live seed (PLS) is calculated based on germination and pure seed (or purity).
Weed seed: The percent of seed which are weed species can be seen on the label. If you have a high percentage of weed seeds including noxious weeds, it will be very hard to control from the beginning stage. In general, certified or high quality forage seeds have much lower weed seed rate than lower quality forage seeds.
Inert matter: Sometimes low quality forage seeds have high percentage of sticks, stems, broken seeds and sand. A high rate of inert matter is not desirable for good stand establishment.
Hard seed: On the label, you will see the rate of hard seed for the variety you are going to purchase. This tells you the percentage of seed which is viable but which will not germinate immediately due to a hard or waxy seed coat. Time or scarification (break down of hard seed coats) is required to allow moisture penetration.
Inoculation on legume seeds: Rhizobium bacteria are essential to do a symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legumes. These days most legume seeds are pre-inoculated with rhizobium bacteria. If legume seeds such as alfalfa, red clover, white clover, birdsfoot trefoil, or kura clover are not pre-inoculated, you need to buy the inoculants separately to make good stand establishment. Rhizobium bacteria should be specific for certain legumes and this is very important since the wrong type of bacteria (inoculant) will be useless. For example, inoculant for alfalfa can not be used for birdsfoot trefoil although inoculant of alfalfa can be used for inoculating white, ladino, or red clovers. The inoculants should be stored in the refrigerator or cool, shaded area until you use them.
Certified seed: Most certified forage seeds (labeled with a blue tag) have greater than 95% germination rate and buying certified forage seed will be helpful for successful establishment.
Source: Doo-Hong Min, Michigan State University Extension