Alfalfa Hay Field Preparation, Seed Selection and Planting Recommendations.
It’s almost August, and that means it’s time to prep your fields for fall planting, right?
Well if your going to be planting Alfalfa or a nice mixed legume hay crop for harvest next spring it is!
In my opinion, sunken crown alfalfa is the best way to go in the northeast region of the country if your looking to sell your hay or graze your animals on it. The sunken crown characteristic gives alfalfa outstanding winter-hardiness, and superior re-growth capabilities when being grazed or mowed because the "heart" or crown of the plant is protected below the ground surface.
When grazing alfalfa, you will need a companion crop to avoid bloat,
especially in Horses.
If you don’t plan to graze it, your main concern should be, is there enough of a market to sustain a successful hay business?
Who are you going to be selling to?
- Cattle Producers
- Sheep, Goat or Alpaca Farms
- or at a weekly livestock/hay Auction
Each has their own special needs when it comes to what they'll feed their livestock.
Can you create a niche market in your area?
Do your homework.
- Soil fertility (pH should be 6.5 - 7.0)
- Fertilizer needed? ( manure, lime, phosphorus, potassium, calcium)
- Correct equipment for seed bed preparation (plow, disc, harrow, seeder)
Direct seeding = 15-18 lbs.
With a single companion crop = 12-15 lbs. (such as clover)
With FULL Irrigation = 18-20 lbs.
** We use 6-8/lbs. in our pasture mix (which equates to approx. 15% of the total seed mix), which also includes Orchard grass, Red & White Clover & Timothy. However as the season continues and you mow these fields or pastures for winter hay stockpiles, you’ll generally only see Timothy in your 1st cutting.
Stand Age & Plants per Sq. Foot
Alfalfa should be re-evaluated each year to measure deterioration.
Stands less than the levels shown below probably justify a new seeding.
On the seeding year there should be 20-30 plants/stands per sq. ft.
Second year = 12-20
Third year = 8-12
And on the fourth and subsequent years = 6-8
All alfalfa seed has to be "inoculated", which provides beneficial living, nitrogen-fixing bacteria to the seed. With this type of seed treatment, some planting adjustments may be required. To obtain your desired seeding rate, it is recommended that you increase your manufacturer's suggested drill setting. The recommendation does not imply that more seed is needed. Rather, it infers that you should recalibrate your equipment to adjust for seed coatings.
Seeding rates can range from 5-30+ pounds per acre depending on your location.
Method of seeding, seedbed prep., soil type & fertility, and purpose of seeding are factors which determine proper seeding rate. There approx. 220,000 alfalfa seeds per pound. Each pound of seed planted per acre provides about 5 seeds per square foot.
The number of seedlings surviving the first year of planting is likely to be about 10-50% due to competition, disease, insects, winter injury and other causes.
When no companion crop is used (red & white clover), it is important to have 20-30 plants per square foot during the seeding year for maximum yields and for protection against weed competition. Plant 12-25 pounds of seed per acre to attain this goal.
Time to plant?
Most farmers plant in late summer-early fall. Some plant in early spring. Some do both. And some do Feb. planting, otherwise known as "Frost Seeding".
If planting in late summer like we do, make sure you seed at least 6 weeks prior to a hard frost so seedlings can develop adequately to withstand winter conditions.
Even if your seedlings survive the winter when not given the proper establishment time, their spring growth is likely to be poor, resulting in low yields and severe weed infestation.
Your best bet is to prepare the seedbed in mid-summer, and than seed when soil moisture is available.
Over fertilizing not only can be costly but also may contribute to pollution of surface water supplies. In an ongoing pasture liming and fertilizing program, retest every 4 to 5 years to determine whether your fertilization strategy is on track.