Brian Lang, Extension Field Agronomist, Northeast
In October 2007, a farmer called the Winneshiek County Extension Office to ask about fall harvest management of alfalfa. Hay prices were relatively high and the fall growth of fourth crop alfalfa made an October harvest possible. His decision to harvest would be based largely on the discussion with the Extension Agronomist about alfalfa management.
The Extension Agronomist outlined fall alfalfa management practices, including the recommendation to minimize stress on alfalfa overwintering by either not harvesting the crop in fall or to leave a 6 to 8-inch stubble height from fall harvested fields. The farmer wanted to take advantage of the strong hay prices and harvest the alfalfa, but did not initially consider leaving a significant stubble height. That would reduce overall yield. After the discussion, he was convinced to cut higher, leaving a 6 to 8-inch stubble height and thus harvesting less alfalfa.
The winter ended up being very stressful on alfalfa. Those fields that were cut short in fall suffered significant winterkill. Over 70% of the alfalfa fields in the area were lost do to winterkill. However, the high fall stubble height left in this farmer’s fields provided enough insulation for the alfalfa to survive the winter. If he lost these hay fields like his neighbors, he figured it would have cost him about $200 per acre in lost first crop harvest, and another $200 per acre to establish replacement alfalfa fields. For the 80 acres of alfalfa, this resulted in avoiding a $32,000 loss in production. Needless to say, he was very complimentary of ISU Extension’s alfalfa management recommendations.
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September 11, 2008
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