Shortcuts For Planting Alfalfa
April 17, 2009 For best results, dryland alfalfa should be seeded by May 15 and irrigated alfalfa by May 31. However, this spring's wet weather may push some alfalfa planting past the optimum time and into competition with other crops for fieldwork. Fortunately, there are ways to save time.
Air Seeding. Conventional alfalfa plantings involve several tillage operations to prepare a seedbed, followed by drilling. This year, consider using a floater or air seeder instead of a drill. This requires less time and tillage since it's best to leave the field a little rough. The floater or air seeder spreads seed much faster than a drill so be sure the custom applicator has experience spreading seed evenly. After broadcasting the seed, incorporate it into the soil just a little — two quick passes with a flat harrow or roller seem to work best. Warning: Since broadcasting seed reduces your ability to control seed depth and distribution across the soil surface, increase your seeding rate about 30% compared to the seeding rate you would use with a drill or alfalfa seeder.
Reduced Tillage. No-till or low till seeding also saves time. Bean stubble might be best, but small grain and even corn and sorghum stubble can be used. If residue is heavy, first shred or chop stalks and spread them evenly across the field so the drill can cut through them more easily. Also, if the field has much ridging from previous crop rows, disk lightly to level the ground. If weeds remain after disking, use a burndown herbicide like glyphosate or Gramoxone, then no-till seed, and be ready to use a postemergence herbicide like Poast Plus, Select, Buctril, Raptor, or Pursuit for early weeds.
Extension Forage Specialist