Planting alfalfa this summer or fall? Romulo Lollato and Doo-Hong Min, forage specialists with Kansas State University, have some best practices to make sure your investment pays off.
“Alfalfa is a three- to five-year, or longer, investment and therefore it is crucial to ensure proper establishment,” they write in a recent edition of K-State’s Extension Agronomy newsletter. “Some producers shy away from alfalfa because of its high establishment cost and risk of stand failure. In the long run, however, it’s relatively inexpensive, if amortized over the life of the crop. If managed properly and given favorable weather conditions, dryland alfalfa can produce 3 to 6 tons of forage per acre per year. Irrigated fields can produce 8 tons per acre per year or more.”
Lollato and Min say farmers should consider the following eight tips to optimize their alfalfa:
1. Soil test and correct soil acidity. Add lime to get soil pH to 6.8 before you plant.
2. Soil test and meet fertilization needs. Consider adding 15 to 20 lbs. per acre of N as a starter at planting. Watch P levels below 25 ppm and K levels below 120 ppm.
3. Plant certified, inoculated seed.
4. Plant in firm, moist soil. Planting no-till in small-grains stubble usually provides a good seedbed.
5. Don’t plant too deeply. (Less than 10 times the seed diameter is a good rule of thumb.)
6. Use the right seeding rate. Check your state university’s recommendations. Even in Kansas, seeding rates range from 8 lbs. per acre to 20 lbs. per acre depending on irrigation and soil type.
7. Check for herbicide carryover that could damage the new alfalfa crop. This is especially true following corn or grain sorghum.
8. Choose pest-resistant varieties. Pay attention to ratings against phytophthora root rot, bacterial wilt, fusarium wilt, anthracnose, spotted alfalfa aphid and others.
For more resources, including an alfalfa production handbook, click here.