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Should I wait longer to cut alfalfa?

By Jerrold Tesmer

Fri, May 31st, 2013
Posted in All Agriculture

Dan Martens, Extension Educator Stearns/Benton Counties, gathered these thoughts from several Regional and State Specialists on the current alfalfa situation. This is what he had to say, “I hope I’ve represented these three perspectives correctly. In the end the weather might make some of these decisions for us. With more rain in the forecast, by the time the weather allows a chance to harvest hay, the hay crop may be plenty ready for harvest. Farmers know a lot about working toward a goal and then doing the best they can with the cards that are dealt – being ready with Plan A…. and then being ready with Plan B.

From Craig Sheaffer, University of Minnesota: “This spring because of winter injury, there will be more uneven growth than normal so flowering among plants within a field will not be uniform. Letting the crop grow longer will strengthen the root system for production this year, as well as looking ahead to next year. Stressed plants may not start as many buds. For that purpose going to more bloom would do the most good. You have to balance that with short and long term feed needs.”

Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin: “Quality forage is demanded due to high price of grain and on the other hand cutting early will hurt the alfalfa stand. I think we should encourage a compromise. This means cutting at the absolute minimum quality needed. For example, cut at a 170 RFV/RFQ PEAQ stick or scissors-cut lab test for milk cows with a goal of landing at 150 RFV/RFQ in the feed manger; and cut at 150 PEAQ or scissors cut lab test RFV for dairy heifers and beef hoping for 125 or so in the manger. Then get hay/haylage off fields as quickly as possible to encourage regrowth. Fertilize well (especially potassium and sulfur). Remember that we generally have moisture in early June for regrowth and may be drier in late June and July.

In doing this we are taking some risk with stand total yield for the season, but farmers need forage now, and need to be able to pay the bills so we need to minimize corn purchase (at least until the price falls this fall).”

Jim Paulson, University of Minnesota Regional Educator, says, “There are a number of things to think about: What are the ages of the stands? How do they look? Is the farm up on their fertility? In the southern area where we saw the problem more, most of the older stands are gone so the younger stands are most likely healthier. The safe agronomic approach is to let it get some age, usually we save that for the second or third cuts. We also know that age of the plant is so critical to quality and age of first cut is really difficult to determine. When did it start to grow?”

So that being said, I wouldn’t be overly aggressive, but I still would cut for 150 RFQ or better haylage. People desperate for feed don’t have a lot of choices.

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