Raise Cutting Height When Alfalfa First Harvest Is Delayed

Raise Cutting Height When Alfalfa First Harvest Is Delayed

June 6, 2008

Rain has delayed many folks from cutting alfalfa. Even if it is not blooming heavily, you might be surprised to find it has already started new growth for the next cutting.

Walk into your alfalfa field before cutting and look closely at the base or crown of plants. Do you see short, new shoots starting to grow? If so, these are the new plants for the second cutting.

Look closely to determine the height of the 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.

Fortunately, you can avoid this delay. By raising your cutting height a couple inches, you can avoid clipping off most second growth shoots. Your regrowth then will have a head start toward the next cutting. And since the stubble you leave behind has minimal feed value, the yield you temporarily sacrifice is mostly just filler.

Normally I suggest leaving as short a stubble as possible when cutting alfalfa because that maximizes yield and doesn't affect rate of regrowth, but the recommendation is different with a later first harvest when new shoots are already growing. This year first determine whether your alfalfa is producing new shoots and raise cutting height if needed.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist