| 2012 drought conditions and freeze/thaw cycles this spring left their mark on many stands of alfalfa, says Justin Fruechte, forage and cover crop specialist with Millborn Seeds.
"Winter kill has either wiped out entire alfalfa stands or left them quite sparse," he said.
If stands aren’t perking up per usual this spring, Fruechte says growers do have options available to meet their forage needs. However, to determine which option is best, he says they first need to assess the damage.
"The roots will tell you if the plants will recover yet this spring or if they are dead," Fruechte said.
He encourages growers to dig up a few plants throughout the stand. If the roots are white and firm, the plant is alive. If the roots are brown and mushy, the plant is dead.
For sparse alfalfa stands that growers plan to cut for haylage, Fruechte recommends interseeding the stand with Italian ryegrass.
A cool season annual, Italian ryegrass is easy to establish and, like alfalfa, it is highly digestible with excellent levels of crude protein. Italian ryegrass also regrows quickly for multiple cuttings.
"Italian is an excellent option that will thicken up the stand and allows for multiple cuttings," Fruechte said.
If wet conditions prevent growers from interseeding this spring, another option Fruechte suggests is the warm season annual, Teff grass.
Growers can interseed Teff grass in early June – once the soil temperatures reach at least 60 degrees. A fine-stemmed grass, Teff is highly digestible, and is a quick regrowth, forage hay option.
"Teff grass is also good for growers who are still looking to cut hay," he said.
If the alfalfa stand is beyond repair, Fruechte recommends replanting the entire stand to cereal grains like oats, forage barley or triticale.
"Cereal grains are a quick growing forage option that will meet growers’ forage yield needs and allow for alfalfa to be planted back to that field in the fall. " he said.
To learn more, contact Fruechte at 888-498-7333 or visit www.millbornseeds.com.