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Spring alfalfa management: stand assessments, autotoxicity, and emergency forage

Neith Little and M. Scott Wells

Reports of winter injury have been few this year, but it is still important to take the time to assess your alfalfa stands to make sure that there are adequate alfalfa stems to maintain your yield goals. As the old saying goes, the best fertilizer is the soles of the farmer’s boots!

As you walk your alfalfa fields this spring, here is some information to keep in mind about how to assess winter damage, and what to do next if you need to consider replanting to provide needed forage.

Assessing alfalfa stands: How much damage is too much damage?

It's important to assess how well your alfalfa survived the winter, so you can predict how much forage you will be able to produce. Monitoring your alfalfa stand's health enables you to be proactive
about deciding when it's time to rotate into a different crop.

University of Minnesota Extension offers some helpful resources for assessing alfalfa stand health, and making feeding options based on that information.

For a quick summary of how to assess your alfalfa stand, see this recent article: Alfalfa winter injury assessment and management

For more information about what your options are if you have damaged alfalfa, see Winter injury of alfalfa: Strategies for livestock producers.

Alfalfa autotoxicity: Why can’t I just over-seed?

If your alfalfa has suffered damage, you might be tempted to over-seed with more alfalfa. Unfortunately, attempts to reseed alfalfa immediately after alfalfa, or to thicken existing stands of thinning alfalfa sometimes fail. This phenomenon has often been attributed to a condition known as autotoxicity in alfalfa. Read this Reducing autotoxicity in alfalfa for more information.

Emergency forage options: What you can plant this spring if your alfalfa stand is poor

So if your alfalfa stand is not as robust as you’d like, and you can't re-seed alfalfa because of the risk of autotoxicity, what can you do to provide your needed forage? University of Minnesota Extension has three helpful articles covering this topic.

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