Understanding Producer Challenges Related to Growing Alfalfa in the South

A recent network collaboration among land-grant universities in the southern region aims to understand the main challenges farmers face when incorporating alfalfa into forage systems in the south US. This survey targets beef and hay producers that have planted or are interested in establishing alfalfa into their forage systems. The goal is to gather information that will be used to develop more effective research and education programs in the region aiming to improve forage production and farm enterprise sustainability.

We ask for your participation in improving educational programs related to alfalfa by taking the alfalfa survey. All information will be kept confidential to the extent allowed by applicable State and Federal law and should take no more than 10 minutes. Participate in the survey for a chance of win a free bag of alfalfa seeds (worth $250)! Please click on the link below or use the QR code to access the survey.

Click here to take the survey!

Why My Hay Stands Don’t Remain Productive

This is because, as the famous agronomist Ev Thomas says: an accumulation of insults. Very frequent cutting by farms refusing to utilize wide swath means that, as research clearly shows, driving on the field to harvest 5 days after mowing is a 25% yield reduction in the next cutting from crushed regrowth points.To make sure the alfalfa doesn’t grow we spread manure several days or weeks after that and further crush the regrowth points that did make it. Tire strips of weeds increasingly occupy more of the field. Add to that the late harvests in a desperate attempt to get the maximum amount out of the crop exposes the crop crown to the full impact of winter and ice sheets. But wait!! We aren’t finished with the insults yet. With the low prices stockyard beef price and low milk prices, we have completely forgotten liming – yet spend bazillion (agronomic technical term) dollars for the latest genetic alfalfa that still will not grow in low pH. The stress of low pH and the wet soils of the past three years has overwhelmed the disease resistance built into the crop and the plants are dying out. This is especially true on marginal soils where it was iffy to plant alfalfa any way – but if you are a real farmer you are supposed to grow just corn and alfalfa. I am not trying to dump on already stressed farmers. Just pointing out the reality of much of our present forage production and how it takes the legs out of the profitability for which you worked so hard and keeps you from achieving the potentially more profitable high forage diets. Are we expecting the impossible? Note: this article was written for alfalfa fields in New York, but has application for any hay field. ~ excerpt from Thomas Kilcer, Crop Soil News, June 2020

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Depends on Harvest Intervals

In a recent study published in Crop, Forage, and Turfgrass Management, researchers investigated the effect of harvest intervals on the persistence of alfalfa, either as a monoculture or mixed with grasses Four harvest intervals were imposed on all species combinations.

The team found that longer alfalfa harvest intervals in the south­eastern U.S. resulted in positive outcomes. They also observed that growing alfalfa in mixtures with tall fescue resulted in the greatest forage mass and nutritive value. The results from this study suggest that harvesting alfalfa at 42-day intervals produces the maximum amount of alfalfa productivity and persistence.

Adapted from Quinby, M.P., Nave, R.L.G., Bates, G.E., & McIntosh, D. {2020). Harvest interval effects on persistence and productivity of alfalfa grown as a monoculture or in mixtures in the southeastern U.S. Crop, Forage & Turfgrass Management, 6.

The Miracle Fall Forage Crop

In 1930, there were nearly 40 million acres of oats harvested for grain in the United States. By contrast, the 2017 Census of Agriculture pegged harvested oat acres at just over 800,000. That is the definition of a drop in popularity.

Although we’ll never reach the 40 million mark again, oats have undergone an impressive makeover as a relatively high-quality, high-yielding fall forage crop for the north and central latitudes of the U.S. and a winter crop in the South. Yes, it’s too early to start planting now, but it’s not too early to start planning for the additional fall forage that oats can provide.

Read the full article here ~ Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower, July 2020

Featured Forage Publication: Alfalfa High-Quality Hay for Horses

Alfalfa is a widely adapted perennial forage legume and is the most important forage legume grown in the United States. It has the highest yield potential and feeding value of all adapted forage legumes. It produces more protein per acre than any other crop. Although predominantly fed to horses as hay, alfalfa can also be fed chopped (as chaff), cubed, or pelleted. Alfalfa and/or alfalfa grass hay is palatable and is often a hay of preference for horses. Quality alfalfa hay has high protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals. It is highly digestible and usually contains more digestible nutrients than grass hays, such as timothy and orchardgrass. Alfalfa is also a popular horse hay since it is widely available. It is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States and is the only forage species produced and sold in every state.

This publication describes the factors affecting the nutritional value of alfalfa hay as well as the horse’s digestive system and nutritional needs. It also has information on purchasing, storing, and feeding alfalfa hay; and uses science to discuss myths and facts of feeding horses.

~ Authors include UK’s Laurie Lawrence and Garry Lacefield and can be downloaded here.

Complete Pasture Renovation

The easiest solution is often not the best solution. I know of many producers who regularly overseed pastures and apply herbicides, but their pastures are still not productive. If a pasture has major issues like fescue toxicity or major weed issues, then you can be wasting your money by trying short term solutions that are not working. The best long term solution can be complete pasture renovation. Below are the basic steps that have proven successful on many farms throughout the southeast.

· Lime and fertilize to soil test recommendations.

· Make sure that toxic fescue has not gone to seed this summer.

· Stop grazing in early July and allow five to six inches of regrowth.

· Spray with glyphosate 4-6 weeks before planting – mid to late-July.

· Allow weeds and toxic tall fescue to regrow.

· Re-spray glyphosate before planting – late August to early September.

· Plant early to mid-September with novel tall fescue, orchardgrass or other perennial grass species.

· Seed with a no-till drill at 20 lbs/acre and no deeper that ¼ to ½ inches deep.

· To achieve better ground cover, set drill at 10 lbs/A, seed twice with the 2nd pass perpendicular to 1st.

· Apply a low rate of N at seeding or in October to enhance stand establishment (40-50 lbs/N/acre).

· For broadleaf weeds, wait until new grass seedlings reach the 4 leaf stage (4-6”) before spraying.

· Allow good sod development before grazing. Be patient and wait for the stand to develop.

· If you must graze, wait until plants are 8” tall and flash graze (a large number of animals for a day).

· Ideally, manage with light grazing or a hay harvest next spring. Overgrazing can ruin a new stand.

· To incorporate clover, frost seed the following February after weed issues have been controlled.

Forage Timely Tips: July

  • Apply 40-60 lb N/A to stimulate summer annual regrowth.
  • Clip pastures late June/early July as needed to maintain vegetative growth and to reduce weed seeds, but don’t clip lower than 4”.
  • Identify fescue pastures for stockpiling. Choose pastures that are well drained, have a strong sod, and have not been overgrazed.
  • Soil test pastures to determine fertility needs.
  • Using UK variety trial results, select varieties to plant in the fall and order seed.
  • Use a designated sacrifice lot to feed livestock hay and supplements as needed if drought sets in and no forage is available for grazing.

Quote of Month “We Never Get Too Old To Learn”

It often occurs that when a person gets older they become set in their ways and less accepting of  knowledge. This will handicap the person in dealing with new challenges and utilizing new information, tools and research findings in their life. Some simply give up and live in the past, reliving the good old days. Although sometimes it can be painful to learn new ways, it will stimulate a persons thinking process and make life more interesting. Order your copy of Forage-Livestock Quote and Concepts, vol. 2, today here.

Managing Pastures During Dry Times

It may seem ironic to be talking about drought when we have such a wet winter and spring, but parts of KY were dry in late May, early June and they may be dry again after this bout of wet weather. It’s important to remember that drought is a part of Kentucky’s agricultural landscape.  Long-term weather records indicate that we can expect a moderate drought once every five years and a real doozy once every decade or so. 

Developing and implementing a drought management plan can significantly reduce the economic and emotional impact of drought on your operation.  The time to develop this plan is before it gets dry.  The strategies that are used will depend on the resources you have on your farm and your long-term goals. Drought management strategies include:

· Implement rotational grazing.

· Incorporate deep-rooted legumes into pastures.

· Incorporate warm-season perennial grasses into grazing system.

· Incorporate warm-season annual grasses into grazing system.

· Feed hay.

· Utilize commodities to extend pastures.

· Stock for five-year drought.

· Wean or sell calves early.

· Sell cows.

~ Chris Teutsch, excerpt from June Cow Country News.

Is Rained On Hay Any Good?

A lot of hay has been cut in recent weeks. The weather was good, but not perfect, as Kentucky weather is notoriously unpredictable. If you got some rain during haymaking, you are not alone. What happens to quality for rained on hay?

The majority of the damage from untimely rains is the loss of soluble nutrients from the hay (the sugars). Even before rain damage, we lose some sugar during plant respiration, that occurs from the time forage is cut until it reaches about 50% moisture content. Rainfall will extend the length of time that the hay is wetter than 50% moisture, leading to more loss of sugars from respiration.

Rainfall also leaches the soluble sugars from hay. The amount of leaching depends on the forage type, the hay moisture content when it rains, the concentration of soluble sugars, and the number, amount and intensity of rainfall event(s). Leaf shatter can also be significant in legumes, especially on nearly dry forage.

Hay that has been rained on during curing will also have greater levels of dirt as well as higher numbers of microorganisms that will cause molding in the bale. Finally, the extra tedding and raking that may be needed to cure the crop can lead to further losses, especially in legume hay.

Research done by Dr. Mike Collins, retired UK forage scientist, gives us some insight into the question of how much quality is lost due to rain. Dr. Collins measured the digestibility of alfalfa and red clover forage which experienced rain at different times after cutting (Table 1). In 1980, one inch of rain that fell soon after clipping had little negative impact on forage digestibility (as measured by IVDMD – a laboratory estimate of the extent of digestion of a forage in the rumen). In a second study, 1.6 inches of rain during curing (after some drying had occurred) caused significant losses in digestibility. Getting 2.4 more inches of rain on almost dry hay caused further damage, truly making some of the forage of little value (for example, 36% digestibility in rain-damaged late-bloom alfalfa). With severely rain damaged hay, it may better to leave it on the field, chop it up with a rotary mower to speed decomposition and minimize shading of the next crop.

Similar research at the University of Arkansas found dry matter losses were below 2% for second cutting orchardgrass with up to 3 inches of simulated rainfall when the forage was 67.4% moisture (moisture level just after cutting). Dry matter losses quadrupled to 8% when the same amount of water fell on forage at 15.3% moisture (moisture level desired for making dry hay).

In the end, deciding what to do with rain-damaged hay is a judgment call. Many factors come into play such as when the rainfall occurs during curing, the amount and intensity, and how dry the crop was when rained on. I find it helpful to know that rain immediately after cutting can do minimal damage.

~Jimmy Henning, excerpt from June 18 Farmer’s Pride.