By Larry Hawkins, PAS
I guess maybe it is just being old, (and my fractured syntax), but the reference is from a song by Peter, Paul and Mary (in 1962 – seems like yesterday!) Where have all the flowers gone? Yes, especially in the Upper Midwest and NE, we may soon or perhaps already are wondering, what happened to our alfalfa? The combinations of little snow in some areas, dry conditions and in some places, huge amounts of cold rain this spring may put the kibosh (technical term!) on last year’s alfalfa fields.
How to Rate Your Alfalfa Stand?
An adequate alfalfa stand contains at least 40 healthy stems per square foot, according to UW-Madison Extension. Anything less should be replaced or thickened. While we enjoyed a good winter for alfalfa, the last 6 weeks in the NE and upper Midwest has been wet and cold with fluctuating temperatures- everything Alfalfa hates. We are already hearing reports of sickly and damaged stands. Checking for stems is a better indication of stand heath then counting plants. A few large, heathy crowns is better then a half dozen sickly/damaged plants.
What is Different About This Year?
Well, almost everything, but we are not going to get into that here! In most years, we have an easy recommendation. It is simply to seed cool season grasses like Italian ryegrass into the alfalfa and maybe some red clover and then benefit from even a higher quality crop then you had with last year’s pure alfalfa. How so? You will be able to keep the remaining alfalfa for at least another year, add digestible fiber, restore and increase the yield per acre to have a higher energy haylage.
New Recommendations – Take Advantage of your new Opportunities
This year, our recommendations have changed. Due to the high cost of every input, consider a new strategy. First, plant your corn into the damaged alfalfa stands and benefit from much lower establishment costs for the corn. On average, first year corn out-yields corn-on-corn by about 15%. With rocketing corn prices, the first-year corn opportunity may be worth $250 an acre. In addition, the nitrogen credit could be worth over $100. The combination of increased yields and lower costs is too good to pass up.
And the Haylage…
For the intended corn acres, plant a cocktail mix (after soil temperatures reach 60ºF and rising) to gain quickly arriving yield and quality over the alfalfa you would have harvested. What should be in the cocktail mix? It will depend on your latitude. In the Upper Midwest and NE, it would be a mixture of Italian Ryegrass, BMR sorghum-sudan and red clovers. As we go south, say below Interstate 80, the Italian Ryegrass goes out of the mix and is planted later in the season to have it escape the hot summer temperatures in the middle of the country. Even further south, we recommend a bigger dependance on BMR sorghum-sudans and BMR pearl millets plus the appropriate legumes.
So, When Do I Replant Alfalfa?
After you get a season’s crop of cocktail mix, you will have forage with higher energy than alfalfa with much higher yield and a lower uNDF240. Think of uNDF240 as the new (and more accurate) lignin. Having diets where you can manage the cow’s intake of uNDF240 allows the feeding of more forage and still maintain high production.So, when do you replant alfalfa? You may decide you never have to! Yes, the Times They are A-Changin’ (Bobby Dylan, 1964)!