Too wet to plant, let's talk alfalfa

May 13, 2016 11:16 AM
Blog Post

In the NW corner of Iowa it has, once again, been a wet week. There have even been localized rains as high as 6" for the week, although most received significantly less. Getting back to planting, it's has been difficult, and we are lagging the rest of the state in planting progress. We aren't used to that in this part of Iowa. However, the alfalfa keeps growing.


The alfalfa fields in Plymouth County that I have been measuring is now about 25" tall, and small 25" alfalfa on May 13buds can be found. Using the PEAQ   quality assessment model, that alfalfa would have a Relative Feed Value of 176. Making haylage reduces the final RFV by 15 units, or making dry hay would cost about 25 RFV units. In general, it is recommended to harvest alfalfa at about 150 RFV for milking dairy herds and 125 RFV for heifers, stocker cattle and lactating beef cattle. First crop alfalfa standing in the field can drop 3 to 5 points of RFV per day. A one-week delay of first crop harvest could cost at least 20 RFV points in feed quality. I will check these fields every 3 or 4 days to monitor progress. Results from around Iowa can be found on this web page. With weather conditions, and the need to plant other crops, the quality of hay from the first crop might suffer this year. A note - there is some evidence that alfalfa weevils are starting to feed in this area. See this 2014 ICM News article for alfalfa weevil management advice.


It is always tough to make good "dairy quality" hay with the first cutting. The weather rarely cooperates, and other work seems to get in the way. I do work with a Sioux County alfalfa producer who harvests with a different system (baleage) than most, and sells the hay to a dairy operation. He has a good YouTube video, taken from his UAV, on the process of cutting to harvest in a  24-hour period. It is called "Making Hay the Ronsiek Way." Take a look!

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Joel DeJong Field Agronomist in NW Iowa

Joel DeJong has over 20 years of experience working closely with farmers on integrated management of pest populations, crop management issues, and nutrient and manure management planning. As the extension field agronomist in northwest Iowa, he currently educates crop producers on proper nutrient ...