Fall Alfalfa Management

Oct 28, 2019

Fall Alfalfa Management
Happy Halloween Week!

Harvest is still in full swing. We are filling bunkers and starting ground piles for milo at several locations. Corn is starting to dwindle down but there is still plenty of milo and soybeans to come in.

As temperatures take a noticeable plunge, we are starting to get a lot of questions on how to manage alfalfa going in to winter. Below are some questions we receive and the answers to those questions.

Do I take another cutting after the first killing freeze?
The answer really depends on your need for the alfalfa and the upcoming weather. Best practice is to leave 6-8 inches of alfalfa regrowth on the field for the winter. This vegetation can help catch snow and protect the topsoil from blowing if we have a dry, windy weather.

If you plan to take that last bit of alfalfa off after a freeze, try to do so within a few days of the freeze for maximum leaf retention. Cut the hay at 3-4 inches off the ground if possible. Consider the amount of tonnage you expect and compare that to the return on investment of harvesting and baling. Be sure the tonnage will pay off for this last cutting, there are many times that leaving it standing makes more sense in this scenario.

If temperatures look favorable for more growth to happen, this may pull nutrient reserves from the roots that the plant uses to survive the winter. If these reserves are moved to the top-growth, you are more likely to see winter-kill in your stand. Alfalfa will normally pull from the root reserves for the first 7-10 days after cutting, so you will need more than 10 days of nice weather in order to replenish before soil temperatures cool off for the winter.

When should I plan to remove an old stand?
Reading the stand is key in deciding whether to keep a field of alfalfa for another season, or to rotate it to another crop. In order to read your stand, you will need to count plants and stems in a square foot. Not only will you analyze plant density, it is also important to check the health of the tap roots and crows of the plants

Check out this article from WinField United for details and photos that will help with your evaluation.

Click Here

What is the best timing for soil sampling and tissue testing on alfalfa?
Soil sampling on an alfalfa field can be done in the fall or in the spring. By pulling samples in the fall, you are set up to apply dry fertilizer in the winter while the stand is dormant. This can give mother nature time to help incorporate key nutrients.

Tissue samples should be pulled at the end of the first cutting, or after 6 inches of regrowth on the second cutting. This sample can be used to understand what nutrients need to be applied to subsequent cuttings of the season. 

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