September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Extra cutting of alfalfa could be made this year

Four and five crops would help rebuild lower hay stocks
Haymaking has been about 10 days ahead of normal in Wisconsin. A chopper and trucks were running in high gear in mid-May at Ocooch Dairy, Hillsboro, Wis.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY RON JOHNSON
Haymaking has been about 10 days ahead of normal in Wisconsin. A chopper and trucks were running in high gear in mid-May at Ocooch Dairy, Hillsboro, Wis.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY RON JOHNSON

By By Ron Johnson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

MADISON, Wis. - An odd winter followed by an unusual spring might prompt farmers to manage their alfalfa fields a bit differently this year. Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin-Extension forage agronomist, said one decision is whether to take an extra cutting - four versus the usual three, or five instead of the usual four.
Another thing on farmers' minds is lower-than-normal stocks of hay. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) said the amount of hay on farms nationwide as of May 1 stood at 21.38 million tons, down 836,000 tons from a year earlier.
In Wisconsin, hay stocks were pegged at 925,000 tons, down 18 percent from last year's 1.122 million tons.
But Minnesota farms had more hay on hand: 900,000 tons, compared to 810,000 a year earlier. South Dakota farms also had more hay this year: 2.4 million tons, compared to 1.85 million in 2011.
The lower Wisconsin number is worrisome, according to Undersander. He said the smaller stocks in the Badger State are "why we've really been watching this first cutting and how it comes along."

Extra cutting possible
There is a smidgeon of good news.
"A lot of farmers will have gotten first cutting up in pretty good shape, because a lot of it's going down this week, and it's still in good condition," Undersander said during the fourth week in May. "It might not be quite as good as some years, but, I think, in many cases we'll get one extra cutting, so that will make up for some of the difference."
Hay making began in Wisconsin about May 10, Undersander said. That's approximately 10 days earlier than normal in the far southern part of Wisconsin. He figured that 10-day jump should carry on farther north in the state. If it does, farmers might have the option of an extra cutting.
Undersander offered this recommendation: "Take the first cutting in a timely manner, for dairy herds particularly. I'm usually recommending cutting by height, but at this time of year now, we can start thinking about buds and so on."
This year, the agronomist advises farmers to delay second cutting until the first flowers appear. Doing so will improve the stand's condition.
"That can be heifer hay," Undersander said. "If you need it for dairy cows, you can take it a little bit earlier. But as early in the season as we can, we'd like to let one cutting go to first flower, to rebuild stand condition. Because we've been pretty rough on it so far this year, with the long dry periods and the freeze-backs, and those sorts of things."
For third cutting, farmers "just have to wait and see" which management path to take, Undersander said. Whether or not they intend to take three cuttings or four before Sept. 1 "makes a little bit of difference."
If four cuttings will be made by Sept. 1, let second and fourth crop both wait until first flower. But if just three cuttings will be taken, it might be enough to wait for first flower only on the second cutting.
People cutting hay around May 20 should figure on cutting again around June 20, and then around July 30, according to Undersander. That would put a fourth cutting at the end of August.
But, "If things get dragged out a little bit, because of drought or rain or whatever, they might end up backing off," agronomist said. The alternative would be to take your third cutting in mid-August and then consider whether or not you want to take a fourth cutting."
The last cutting of the year should come around Oct. 1, or when it looks as though 200 growing degrees will not accumulate.
"You don't have to wait for a killing frost," said Undersander. "You just have to have it cold enough so the alfalfa won't regrow."

Don't forget fertilizer
Ground that was wet dried "rapidly" in May, according to the NASS Wisconsin Crop Progress report. Dry conditions make applying fertilizer to hay fields especially important.
"Potassium and sulfur are going to be particularly important this year, both in terms of rebuilding stand condition and getting yield the rest of the year," Undersander said.
The first application should go on right after first cutting comes off. The agronomist said farmers should apply 50 pounds of potassium per acre for every ton of hay that has been removed since the fields were last fertilized. For sulfur, make that three to four pounds.
First crop this year might not yield as well as it would during normal conditions. Stands haven't been especially tall, due to the dryness at the end of March and in early April.
"That's the time alfalfa develops its root system. If it's short on water, that impacts first cutting quite a bit," Undersander said. "A lot of people don't realize alfalfa needs water three or four weeks before it starts to green up."
True, alfalfa roots can easily go 20 to 30 feet deep, in search of moisture. They'll keep going, said Undersander, until they hit acid soil, bedrock, or some other restriction.
"The deepest alfalfa roots have been discovered is 172 feet," he said. "In some of the silver mines in Nevada, they found alfalfa roots when they were digging."
Smaller hay stocks make getting a good first cutting this year especially important, according to Undersander. Prices for prime dairy cattle hay had been above $200 a ton. That's $50 or more higher than in a typical year, he noted.

Weekly hay report
Farmers who want to keep track of hay prices can access UW-Extension's Weekly Hay Market Demand and Price Report. It's updated each week and is at: www.
[[In-content Ad]]


You must login to comment.

Top Stories

Today's Edition



27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

To Submit an Event Sign in first

Today's Events

No calendar events have been scheduled for today.