Seedling Alfalfa Management During Drought - UNL CropWatch, June 29, 2012

Seedling Alfalfa Management During Drought - UNL CropWatch, June 29, 2012

June 29, 2012

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Alfalfa seedlings experiencing drought during their first summer may struggle to survive.

They're tough. Despite their slow rate of growth and tender appearance, many of them manage to survive stressful conditions and become productive hay-makers.

But some years are harder on these seedlings than others, and this is one of those years. Because of the extended heat and dry weather, alfalfa seedlings are experiencing more stress than usual.  Anything you can do to reduce stress and competition will help.

Weeds. One place to begin is with weed control. Weeds use moisture and intercept light, two critical needs of seedlings. If weeds aren’t large and are growing actively, herbicides are a good option. Otherwise, clipping may be necessary. If you must clip, be careful that you don’t smother seedlings with your clippings. And leave a tall stubble so seedlings don’t go into shock after clipping due to the sudden change in their micro-environment.

Insects. Leafhoppers, aphids, grasshoppers, and other insects cause extra problems during stressful weather. Timely insecticide application or mowing is more important than ever.

Harvest. During drought, I like to give seedlings 70 days or more since planting before harvest. They probably will be in full bloom but they also will have a pretty good root system to gather whatever moisture they can or grow quickly after it rains. They may be short, but at today’s hay prices, it doesn’t take much to pay harvest costs.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist