UNL CropWatch May 5, 2011 Timing Key to First Alfalfa Cutting

UNL CropWatch May 5, 2011 Timing Key to First Alfalfa Cutting

May 5, 2011

Looking at alfalfa in Nebraska this past week, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see many growers getting ready to start cutting. In fact, some folks that need high quality alfalfa for their dairy cows or for a cash crop may already have started cutting. Others should be looking for the first available good weather period.

Being aggressive on the first cutting is critical if you need high forage quality. Alfalfa’s forage quality changes faster during the first spring growth than at any other time of the year. Plants are maturing and temperatures are increasing; both cause quality to decline.

But what about alfalfa intended for beef cows? That might be a little different story, especially if you need to rebuild hay reserves. Normally we get our highest total yield by waiting until alfalfa is near full bloom. At this point, yield is highest and the plant will make the most efficient use of soil moisture. In dryland fields you may need quite a bit more rain for good summer and fall harvests since many deep subsoils remain dry in Nebraska. If you get a good first cutting, you’ll at least have some hay of good enough quality to feed your beef cows next winter.

Timing of hay harvest is important whether your needs are for high quality or for high yield. With the first alfalfa cutting coming up soon, don’t miss your best time.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist