Give Alfalfa an Advantage

September 20, 2009 07:00 PM

Jeanne Bernick, Farm Journal Crops & Issues Editor

Spring may be a long time away, but now is the time to think about managing your alfalfa growth potential, says Leo Brown, forage specialist and Livestock Information Manager with Pioneer Hi-Bred.
Fall cuttings at the wrong time can negatively affect stored alfalfa root food reserves, which can lead to poor winter survival, Brown says. Given the cooler temperatures that are typical during the fall, it generally takes about six weeks for alfalfa to re-grow and store adequate root reserves for winter survival, adds Brown. This needs to be prior to a hard freeze that kills the plants and stops root reserve accumulation.
Several Midwestern studies have shown that alfalfa cut in mid-September actually incurs the greatest yield reduction the following spring – by approximately .6 tons per acre, according to Pioneer. On the other hand, alfalfa left uncut after late summer, or not cut again until after going dormant, exhibits little winter injury and produces good yields.
Brown says you can lessen the potential negative impact of a fall harvest is by cutting early enough in the fall to ensure adequate regrowth. The alternative is to wait until Mother Nature dishes up two consecutive days of a hard freeze (24 to 26 degrees F). For all fall cuttings, leave at least 4 inches of stubble to help catch insulating snows.
For more information on alfalfa and other forage production, visit Pioneer's Forage Forum at The website includes audio programs on forage management practices for both forage growers and livestock producers.

You can email Jeanne Bernick at

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