When you make hay production a priority, it can bring high-yielding profitability to your operation.
As you wait for your fields to dry (or thaw) and prepare to hit the ground running, don’t forget to take a walk — across your hayfields. Spring is the best time to evaluate alfalfa stands, consider fertility and pest control, and prepare for a timely harvest. Yield is the single most important factor impacting alfalfa profitability.1
Achieving top alfalfa yields requires proper management. In fact, as University of Wisconsin Extension specialists note, success starts with making alfalfa a primary, rather than a secondary, crop.
Although many areas enjoyed a relatively mild winter, crop injury and winter kill still can occur, especially if there is no snow cover and crown temperatures dip below 0°F, or when midwinter warm spells cause the plants to break dormancy early, leaving them susceptible to late-winter cold crown temperatures.2
Agronomy experts at Iowa State University recommend evaluating the number of plants per square foot in conjunction with the age of the stand. This handy guide can help you evaluate various types of hay and pasture forages. It also offers management options for winter-injured stands.
Check your soils
Soil pH and nutrient levels are critical for high-yielding alfalfa. Test soils before sowing alfalfa to determine the nutrients needed. Phosphate and potash are the two fertilizers needed in the greatest amounts to establish and grow alfalfa. Apply lime to adjust the soil pH to 6.5 to 7.0. If the starting pH is below 6.2, apply lime at least six months before sowing alfalfa, because the increase in pH does not occur immediately.3
Top-dress established stands based on soil test results. Consider split applications of phosphorus and potassium after the first and last cutting of the season. Apply soon after harvest before regrowth resumes. 4
Prepare for a timely harvest
According to the experts at the University of Wisconsin, harvesting hay at the proper time for high-quality forage is another important profitability factor — especially on the season’s first cutting when forage quality is changing the most rapidly. Scissors clip data indicates that forage quality generally changes five points of RFV per day as it approaches harvest.1
1Undersander D. Alfalfa Yield and Stand. University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension website. www.uwex.edu/ces/forage/wfc/proceedings2002/yield_stand.htm#_ftnref1. Published 2001. Accessed March 8, 2017.
2Barnhart S. Evaluate Forage Stands for Winter Injury. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Integrated Pest Management website. crops.extension.iastate.edu/cropnews/2013/03/evaluate-forage-stands-winter-injury. Published March 18, 2013. Accessed March 8, 2017.
3Lacefield G.D., Henning J.C., Rasnake M., Collins M. Alfalfa, The Queen of Forage Crops. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service website. www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/agr/agr76/agr76.pdf. Accessed March 8, 2017.
4Morrison J. Time to Fertilize Alfalfa Ground. University of Illinois Extension Illinois Livestock Trail website. livestocktrail.illinois.edu/pasturenet/paperDisplay.cfm?ContentID=7436. Published June 6, 2005. Accessed March 8, 2017.
Clearly, when the time is right, you can’t afford to let your hay equipment keep you out of the field. Work with your Case IH dealer now to ensure your windrower, mower, conditioner and baler are field-ready. If you need a new piece of hay and forage equipment, your dealer can help you with that, too, along with the latest technology to help you most efficiently get your hay crop up. When you manage it right, alfalfa can be a high-yielding, profitable crop.