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Evaluate Alfalfa Stands to Improve Next Year’s Crop

Late-season evaluation and analysis can help you get the most from your hayfields.

As we near the point in the haying season when you begin to plan your last cuttings of the season, it’s also a good time to consider evaluating hayfields for next year.

Stand density affects yield and quality of all forages. Spring typically is when final decisions are made about which alfalfa fields to rotate. But a quick and easy late-season measure can help you narrow your focus.1

Ultimately, you should base your final rotation decision on individual farm goals and economics. Penn State Extension specialists recommend assessing hayfields in the fall to identify weakened stands that likely will become more prone to winter injury. Fall evaluation also can show that the stand is no longer dense enough for high yields and needs to be treated with a burndown herbicide to set it up for rotation next spring.

To assess alfalfa stands, use a heavy-gauge wire to make a 1-foot-square frame. Randomly cross your alfalfa stands, tossing the frame to the ground. Count the number of alfalfa stems within the frame. Take and record multiple counts. The experts at Penn State offer these guidelines:

Green light: Stands with 55 stems per square foot are good for another year of production.

Red light: Stands with less than 39 stems per square foot are candidates for rotation.

Yellow light: Stands between 40 and 54 stems per square foot need closer evaluation next spring.

Many factors contribute to winter injury, including stand maturity, varieties with lower winter hardiness and disease ratings, soils with low potassium levels and low pH (less than 6.6) and intensive cutting management.

Know your hay’s worth; protect its value

This also is a good time of year to have your hay analyzed. The latest haying technology from Case IH gives you a bale-by-bale baseline, including relative feed value, moisture and weight. But sampling and testing your hay is the only way to truly know your hay’s nutritive value. This knowledge can help you make the best use of your feed or properly value it in the marketplace. North Dakota State University Extension offers how-to advice on sampling and testing your hay. Once you’ve bagged your samples, check out the National Forage Testing Association’s list of certified labs. And then be sure to protect your hay’s value by handling and storing it properly.

Managing alfalfa stands, fertility, weeds and insects each help ensure a high-yielding, high-quality hay crop. But it takes the right, dependable equipment to finish the job. Talk to your Case IH dealer about our full line of windrowers, mowers and conditioners and balers. Reliable hay equipment helps ensure the timely harvest and gentle handling necessary to bring your hay production closer to its full potential.


High-quality haying tips

Case IH hay-handling equipment

1Craig PH. Field and Crop News, Vol. 10:30. Penn State Extension Crops and Soils website. http://extension.psu.edu/plants/crops/news/2010/october-5#f. Published October 10, 2010. Accessed July 27, 2016.
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