Well-known agronomists Brian and Darren Hefty are our guest bloggers for this post. Through radio and TV programs and during workshops, the Heftys help educate and provide information to farmers to improve their profitability. In this blog post, Brian and Darren discuss steps you can take to improve alfalfa production. I invite you to read their post and let us know what management practices you utilize to maximize your alfalfa crop.
There usually isn’t a quick fix to get more tonnage with your alfalfa. It may be a combination of factors that result in more hay and better quality, too. Here are some of the topics you may consider:
1. Soil and tissue testing—Soil pH is critical, but you won’t know your pH unless you test your soil. Ideal pH is in the 6.3 to 7.3 range. A 5.0 pH will give you almost no tonnage compared to a 7.0. Alfalfa uses lots of potassium and significant amounts of phosphorus and sulfur, in addition to micronutrients, so fertilize accordingly. We also recommend regularly monitoring your crop with plant tissue analysis during the season. This will help you adjust your fertility program this year and for future seasons.
2. Insects—Most serious alfalfa producers are spraying every cutting with insecticide for $2 to $4 per acre. Bugs like alfalfa weevils and potato leafhoppers can devastate alfalfa, but there are many other harmful insects, too.
3. Diseases—Many producers have been experimenting with fungicides for both disease control and plant health benefits. We’ve talked to many farmers who think this is really adding to their bottom line for an investment of $7 to $14 an acre.
4. Tiling—In general, you don’t want to leave your alfalfa stand for too many years or you could damage drain tile. However, good drainage is important if you want to maximize tonnage and quality.
5. Starting Over—If you want maximum alfalfa tonnage and quality, you might be ahead to tear out your stand every three to four years. We talk to farmers who want to raise grass and alfalfa together for horses. You can certainly do that, but you’ll maximize total tonnage by raising grass and alfalfa in separate fields. That way you can manage each crop individually with fertilizer, weed control, timing of your cutting, etc.
Improving alfalfa production isn’t easy, but it can be accomplished with time, effort, dedication and attention to detail.