Alfalfa Harvest Delayed? Adjust Cutting Height

Alfalfa Harvest Delayed? Adjust Cutting Height June 1, 2016

Two weeks of intermittent rains have delayed alfalfa harvest for many producers. As of Sunday, May 29, first cutting had been taken on 31% of the state's alfalfa crop, ahead of last year's 19% and the five-year average of 27%. If you weren't one of the lucky growers who got theirs cut and put up before more more rains came, you may want to consider adjusting your cutting height.

Even if your alfalfa is not blooming heavily, you may be surprised to find that it already has started growing your next cutting. Before cutting walk into your alfalfa field and look closely at the base or crown of the plants.  Do you see short, new shoots starting to grow?  These new shoots are the new plants that your alfalfa hopes to turn into your second cutting.

Look closely. How tall are these new shoots?  Are many of them a couple inches taller than your usual cutting height?  If you cut these new shoots off — along with the first growth — your alfalfa plants will have to start a whole new set of shoots for regrowth.  This could cause a delay in second cutting regrowth by as much as one week.

To avoid further complicating an already delayed cutting cycle, raise your cutting height just a couple inches so that you avoid clipping most of these new, second growth shoots.  Your regrowth will have a head start toward the next cutting and, since the stubble you leave behind is of low feed value, the yield you temporarily sacrifice is mostly just filler.

Normally I would suggest cutting alfalfa as short as possible to maximize yield, but not in the case of a delayed first cutting.  Check for regrowth and, if necessary, raise the cutting height to assure a successful second harvest too.

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