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CropTalk: Managing Alfalfa

July 2022

Published on Friday, July 1, 2022

As we approach the middle of summer, we hope your alfalfa and forage crops are off to a great start. Here are some management tips for the rest of the season. We’ve also included fall seedings information, alfalfa research from Beck’s Practical Farm Research (PFR)® program, and details on Beck’s BIO-XTRA™ inoculants.

 

PESTS

Alfalfa management through the rest of the season will continue to focus on pest management and maintaining a healthy crop to produce a high tonnage and quality product. This time of year, the primary pest of alfalfa is the Potato Leafhopper, which can also infest alfalfa stands throughout the season. Leafhoppers feed directly on foliage, reducing both tonnage and quality. Thankfully, resistant varieties are available; however, if not using a resistant variety, be prepared to scout and use an insecticide if necessary. When scouting, use an insect sweep net and scout at least ten areas of the field. Keep in mind that new seedings are more susceptible than established ones. Refer to the Figure 1. to determine when an application is necessary.

 

FUNGICIDES

Another increasingly common alfalfa summer management practice is the use of fungicides. Fungicides not only help us manage disease, but certain fungicide modes of action can improve plant health, just like we frequently discuss with corn and soybean crops. In fact, beginning in 2021, Beck’s PFR team began testing fungicide applications in alfalfa with encouraging results in the first year of the study. We sprayed Priaxor® fungicide two weeks prior to both the first and third cuttings. We saw large increases in forage yield and slight improvements in quality, which equated to large increases in milk/A. Stay tuned for more results as we continue this study in 2022 and beyond!

 

CUTTING

As we look ahead to the fall, it’s important to consider how late we can make our final cutting. To allow our alfalfa to store plenty of energy in the roots going into winter and to ensure a good stand the following spring, we need to stop harvesting at least four weeks prior to a killing frost. If you’re considering rotating fields out of alfalfa, this decision should also be made in the fall when stands are about 4 to 6 in. tall. It’s important to evaluate the cost of fertility and pest management and balance that against the yield potential of your stand (Figure 2). For stands in their second year or later, do not reseed to alfalfa.

 

 

SEEDING

For those planning to seed new alfalfa this fall, here are a few guidelines to follow. Be sure to soil test in the fall and apply required nutrients, especially P and K. Also, ensure a weed-free seed bed to reduce competition for germinating seedlings. Seeding with a drill is preferred over broadcasting to reduce dependence on timely rainfall following seeding. Drilled seeding rates should be between 18 to 22 lb./A. at 0.25 to 0.5 in. deep; alfalfa seeds are very small and will struggle to emerge if planted too deep. Finally, increase seeding rates by at least 20% if broadcasting to compensate for reduced emergence.

 

INOCULANTS

Finally, adding an inoculant while harvesting your forage crops can provide your livestock with great feed quality. Inoculants are designed to enhance fermentation and preservation, helping to reduce dry matter loss and heating in the bunker, also allowing for a wider harvest window under varying conditions. In 2021, we launched a line of four specifically formulated inoculants and mold inhibitors we call BIO-XTRA, and this year adding a dry-applied product called BIO-XTRA D. Now is the best time to order for your forage and corn silage inoculants. Reach out to your local Beck’s representative for more information.

 

LEARN MORE

Download Beck’s Alfalfa Planting Guide for a comprehensive look at all things alfalfa: https://bit.ly/Alfalfa-Planting BIO-XTRA Inoculant Sales Sheets and information: BecksHybrids.com/Bio-Xtra

 

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Aaron Brooker
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