UNL CropWatch May 21, 2010: Raise Cutting Height with Delayed Alfalfa Harvest

UNL CropWatch May 21, 2010: Raise Cutting Height with Delayed Alfalfa Harvest

May 22, 2010

Have you harvested your first cutting of alfalfa yet? In many fields alfalfa is way ahead of most years so even if it is not blooming heavily, you may be surprised to find it already has started to grow your next cutting.

Walk into your alfalfa field before cutting and look closely at the base or crown of the plants. Do you see short, new shoots starting to grow? These new shoots will make up the 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.

Fortunately, you can avoid this delay. All you need to do is raise your cutting height just a couple inches so that you avoid clipping off most of these new, second growth shoots. Since the stubble you leave behind is usually of low feed value anyway, 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 when cutting is delayed and new second shoots are growing, your best option is to adjust cutting height. 

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist