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Late summer alfalfa management key to strong spring stands

Pioneer Hi-Bred news release Published on 28 July 2011

Good seedbed preparation and late summer management are among the biggest factors that determine a successful, high-yielding alfalfa crop.

Alfalfa is a long-term investment for growers and, to maximize productivity, there are several steps to take before seeding in the fall to ensure good stand establishment the next spring.

"Once growers have alfalfa established, it is a great crop for a long-term rotation," says Dan Berning, Pioneer technology services manager. "But growers want to get it right. They won't have another chance on that field for a while."

To thrive, alfalfa seeds require good seed-to-soil contact. Because of their size, the seeds should not be planted very deep, since that may cause emergence challenges. To ensure holding moisture, growers should plant in firm soil.

"In the ideal seedbed, a footprint doesn't leave more than a half-inch depression," Berning says. "This is firmer than soil needed for planting larger seed crops, but growers need to recognize alfalfa seed is very small."

"A firm seedbed helps prevent the biggest mistake in alfalfa planting - planting too deep," says Gary Brinkman, Pioneer area agronomist.

Other good seedbed management practices revolve around weed control.

"Alfalfa is a delicate seedling," Berning says, "so potential weed competition needs to be eliminated or it will inhibit the establishment of a good stand."

Selecting the right planting time also is important to good alfalfa establishment. Optimum planting times depend greatly on the region.

"It is important to plant early enough to establish growth before fall dormancy," Berning says. "A rule of thumb is to plant no later than one month before the expected fall freeze, unless that won't provide adequate growth in your region."

Typically, growers should not harvest alfalfa before winter, but rather manage it. If growers cut their alfalfa crop in the fall, it depletes the root reserves of nutrients.

"When the stands get cut too late in the fall, typically growers will see more winter-kill resulting in a thinner spring stand," Brinkman says. "If growers decide to cut, they should leave at least 6 to 8 inches of stubble."

Before planting and during the beginning stages of alfalfa growth, growers should scout for potential insect infestations.

When making purchasing decisions, growers also need to be aware of how much pure, live seed is in the bag. The bags can contain large amounts of coatings and other inert matter, adding additional pounds to the bag that are not actual seed.  FG

—Source: Pioneer Hi-Bred news release