Plant spring alfalfa in April and May
April 15, 2009
April provides the optimum conditions for planting spring alfalfa in our area. Spring alfalfa should be planted from early April to early May.
The month of choice for planting spring alfalfa is April. The crop can be planted into May in irrigated situations. While planting alfalfa in the fall increases the amount of forage produced the first year, planting alfalfa in the spring is less risky.
There is usually more moisture and less variance in the weather in the spring, which makes it less risky to plant the alfalfa now. Also, spring planting allows farmers to re-plant if the fall planting fails.
Before planting, farmers need to test the soil for nutrient levels and apply fertilizer to fields, if needed. Phosphorus would be the nutrient most called for, but it depends largely on the individual field.
I recommend choosing a well-adapted variety with a fall dormancy rating of three or four. Resistance to disease and insects also is important.
Alfalfa can be expensive and risky to plant, so it is important that the stand is maintained for as long as possible. Farmers want to produce a high forage quality as long as possible, and pest resistance is the key to that.
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Minimizing tillage can decrease planting costs while helping maintain moisture levels in the soil. I recommend as little seed bed preparation as possible.
The more times the farmer goes across the field, the more it costs and the more moisture is lost. If the field is tilled many times, it dries out the surface. Due to its shallow planting depth, low surface moisture can cause germination and emergence problems for alfalfa.
Farmers should consider the no-till option for planting alfalfa. One alternative is to plant alfalfa into last year’s row crop stubble, such as soybeans or corn. If there are no weeds actively growing, this ground is perfect for planting without any tillage. The crop residue provides protection from erosion and, by not tilling, this method reduces moisture loss, saves time and reduces costs.
However, farmers need to be aware of possible herbicide carryover. Know the herbicide program and be wary of carryover that could damage the alfalfa. Pay attention to the label, because there may be rotation restrictions. Herbicides applied to small grain crops that may have detrimental carryover include Glean, Finesse, Amber, Ally and Peak. Atrazine and atrazine-containing products, which are used often on row crops, also can damage the alfalfa.
Herbicides are available for pre-plant incorporated and post-emergence applications for weed and grass control in alfalfa. I recommend farmers apply herbicide if they anticipate they will have a serious weed problem. Heavy weed pressure could cause establishment problems and lower the quality of the crop.