Options for Winterkilled Alfalfa

Options for Winterkilled Alfalfa

April 25, 2008 

Reports are coming in about winterkilled alfalfa in low spots of fields where waterlogged soils or ice may have killed plants.

If you have fields where you suspect a problem, it's important to assess the extent as soon as possible and then consider your optiions.

Some responses need early decisions and actions to be successful, like interseeding oats or another crop into thin stands to boost spring hay production. Other responses, like tearing up the alfalfa field and planting it to corn, might be decided a little later. However, waiting too long may limit your seed corn choices or cause you to miss the best time to plant a new field to alfalfa.

In alfalfa fields planted last year, new alfalfa can be seeded directly into the thinned areas without worrying about autotoxicity. In older fields consider other options.

Drilling a bushel or two of oats per acre as soon as possible is a good short-term remedy for a cutting or two. Another option is to drill 15 to 20 pounds of Italian ryegrass. It will begin to contribute around second cutting and usually continue until first cut next year. For an all-legume hay option, interseed red clover.

Your best long-term solution probably is to add a perennial grass. Orchardgrass, festulolium, and endophyte-free tall fescue may be your best choices. You need to interseed as early as possible and take a super-early first cutting to reduce competition from the alfalfa.

All is not lost when alfalfa fields die. Consider the many options and which one will best fit your hay needs.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist