Helping Farmers Assess Profitability Potential of Winter-Injured Alfalfa Stands

Brian Lang, Field Agronomist, Northeast Area

Problem Statement:

For two consecutive years, harsh winter weather injured significant acreages of alfalfa in northeast Iowa.  The earlier that a decision can be made as to whether to keep a stand or replace it, improves the economic viability of the situation.  For example, if a field is identified as a failed stand in April, a new alfalfa stand can be seeded in another field in April, the optimum month for alfalfa establishment.  And the failed field can be prepared for corn production, also planted at the most opportune time in spring.  The farmer loses these advantages if the failed alfalfa field is not identified until May.

Programmatic Response: 

Every April the ISU Extension Field Agronomist randomly scouts alfalfa fields in northeast Iowa.  The goal is to provide initial assessments of alfalfa winter injury by mid-April.  This information is then passed on to agricultural providers, agricultural agencies including the Agricultural Statistics Service, farmers, and others via an ISU Extension newsletter and news releases sent to various media.  Time permitting, the Extension Agronomist also responds to one-on-one farm visits, directly educating farmers on how to assess their alfalfa fields.  The Extension Agronomist was able to respond to 27 of these visits in the last two springs.


For the winters of 2008 and 2009, the estimated percentage of alfalfa stands sufficiently winter-injured and to be not worth keeping was 65% and 20% respectively.  It is difficult if not impossible to estimate the overall impact of the “early warning” alfalfa injury reports by the Extension Agronomist for farmers and agricultural businesses in northeast Iowa.  However, a survey was conducted with the famers from the 27 one-on-one farm visits.  These 27 visits represented approximately 2,500 acres of alfalfa, of which an average of 45% were determined non-viable stands.  The overall economic assessment by farmers to be able to make a timely decision on new establishment of alfalfa stands and optimizing crop rotations was estimated at about $50 per acre.  Calculating the 45% winter-injured stands of the 2,500 total acres assessed, comes to an improved economic viability of over $56,000, or an average of just over $2,000 per famer assisted.


103 Forages, Small Grains, and New Opportunities

Page last updated: July 15, 2009
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