By: Jeff Stevens, CCA, IFA Garland, UT
The Intermountain West is probably the premier area of the country for quality alfalfa hay production. But are we getting the most out of our ground when it is in alfalfa? During the last four years the alfalfa committee of IFA has been involved in grower level testing programs to identify programs, products and management techniques to increase the yield and the quality of alfalfa hay. It has been a seemingly daunting task. But as they say “The best way to eat an Elephant is one bite at a time.” So here are a series of tips and products that when added together may help you increase the yield and quality of your alfalfa hay.
The best place to start a good hay program is at the end of a stand’s life when it is ready to be rotated out. This is a good time to have your IFA Crop Consultant identify weed and disease problems that may have shortened stand life. This is also the best time to address perennial weeds like canadian thistle, dandelion and quackgrass. There is no better time to kill these weeds and the alfalfa, than to spray the stand with Round-Up 48 hours before it is to be cut for the last time. This is the best timing to get the maximum kill on deep-rooted perennial weeds and to kill the alfalfa as well. After the hay has been baled and removed from the field, deep tillage with a heavy disc or a moldboard plow will disrupt the roots and prevent them from reestablishing. The ground is now ready to be rotated into a different crop like corn, wheat or beans. A two year rest from alfalfa is also a good idea in order to break disease, pest and weed problems. This is especially true when fighting deep-rooted perennial weeds that may take more than one attempt to control.
A soil test prior to planting the next crop is recommended since it can identify nutrients that have been used heavily by the hay crop, such as phosphorus and potassium, and also measure nutrients left behind, like nitrogen. Since many of IFA’s field men are Certified Crop Advisors, they can help to interpret a complete soil test and use it to construct a well-balanced fertility program for any crop. A good soil-testing program over time is also a valuable tool for tracking trends like salt build up that may require amendment programs such as gypsum, elemental sulfur or humic acid.
Most of our western soils are high in free lime and do a great job of tying up phosphorus and the micronutrients that alfalfa requires for maximum hay production. IFA has several phosphorus fertilizers that are designed to combat this problem. For those who prefer a dry fertilizer program, 11-52-0 with Avail has been shown to keep phosphorus more available for a longer period of time. For those who would like to take the next step into a liquid program, we offer two high quality liquid fertilizers, Structure with organic acids and Progerminator, which uses a proprietary chelating technology. Both can be used as the primary phosphorus source, or applied between cuttings to enhance a Fall applied dry fertilizer program. One of the most promising fertilizer programs initiated by IFA is one from Cache Valley using the liquid fertilizer, Structure. By applying Structure 3 times, first with an herbicide applied during the dormant period, followed by another application at insecticide time, and another at 3rd crop, this program is achieving consistent 8-ton yields.
Since alfalfa is a multi-year crop, controlling weeds seem to be a perennial problem. From eliminating volunteer cereals in new seeding alfalfa to killing quackgrass in older stands, IFA has several chemicals to keep your hay stands clean and productive. For new seeding fields, Raptor will control many grasses and broadleaf weeds. For those fields where volunteer cereals or cheat grass is the main problem, Section does an admiral job of controlling annual grasses. Once the alfalfa is established, Velpar Alfamax can be used to keep the stand clean and productive. In the last year of the stand, metribuzin can be used with no carryover concerns. Finally the stand can be sprayed out 36-72 hours before cutting with RoundUp. As with all of IFA’s products and programs, your local IFA Crop Advisor has helpful tips for your local area.
Quality alfalfa seed is the foundation of a strong stand of hay. The National Alfalfa Alliance rates an alfalfa variety’s ability to withstand 14 different diseases and insects, from susceptible to highly resistant. Choosing a variety that can stand up to the onslaught of Mother Nature is a step towards a healthier and longer lasting stand. The varieties offered by IFA are chosen for their resistance to diseases and insects in the Intermountain West. All IFA varieties are pre-inoculated for proper nodulation, but they can also be ordered as a coated seed. Seeds can be coated with a gypsum-based coating that can improve germination and seedling health, but do need to be planted within a year of being coated. IFA will also bring to market a new generation conventional alfalfa seed later this year.
Round Up Ready Alfalfa is now available in our market. We have several varieties that will fit well in all markets that Intermountain Farmers services. Please contact your local crop advisor for the variety that will fit best in your area.
Insects are not always a problem everywhere, and don’t necessarily occur every year, but when they do show up their effect can be devastating. With the loss of Furadan insecticide at the end of 2009, bug control has become a greater challenge. Insects can be classified by how they damage the plant, do they chew the foliage or suck the juices. Choosing the proper insecticide to control each type of bug is essential to achieving satisfactory control, and it may be necessary to mix two types of insecticide together to control all the damaging insects with one application. Cobalt insecticide is an example that controls both sucking and chewing insects. Since many insecticides are restricted use chemicals, talk to your IFA professional for guidance, and always read and follow the label for proper rates and pre-harvest requirements.
There are more acres devoted to the production of irrigated alfalfa in the Intermountain West than any other crop. It may also be the most neglected. But just like eating an elephant, advances begin with small, affordable steps in the right direction. Your local IFA Crop Consultant is ready with many products and management programs to help your alfalfa crop become a more productive and profitable part of your operation.