UNL CropWatch April 28, 2011 Forage Alternatives if Alfalfa Planting Not Possible

UNL CropWatch April 28, 2011 Forage Alternatives if Alfalfa Planting Not Possible

April 28, 2011

If wet spring weather delays alfalfa planting, consider some planting alternatives.

Normally, we recommend planting alfalfa by mid-May on dryland sites and by the end of May under irrigation in Nebraska. Planting later greatly increases the risk of hot, dry, windy weather killing new seedlings before they have enough root system to support the moisture needs of the plants.

This spring, however, planting by these dates may be difficult. One way to plant more quickly is to seed no-till. Crop residues of corn, milo, beans, and small grains are not a problem for most drills, but ridges along the rows can make the field too rough for comfortable hay-making.

Weeds can be controlled post-emergence using herbicides like Poast Plus or Select for grasses and Buctril, Pursuit, Raptor, and Butyrac for broadleaves. Roundup, of course, can be used with tolerant varieties. Mowing weeds also helps. A burndown spray using Roundup or Gramoxone before planting may be needed if weeds already are present.

Forage Alternatives

If you can't plant by the deadline and need to meet your hay needs, consider planting a forage now and planting alfalfa next August so it will germinate after the hottest part of the season.

Alternatives include sorghum-sudan hybrids and foxtail millet. Foxtail millet won't regrow after an early August hay, so it may work best. Sorghum-sudans will need to be sprayed or tilled before an August alfalfa planting. Berseem clover, any of the summer annual grasses like cane, pearl millet, and sorghum-sudan and even soybeans could be planted for hay if you decide to wait a full year before trying to plant again next spring.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist