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Forage topics for spring: Alfalfa assessment, establishment and emergency forages

by M. Samantha Wells, forage agronomist

Assessing alfalfa

Healthy alfalfa taproot on the left and damaged taproots on the right
A number of factors can contribute to winter damage of an alfalfa stand. These are all important to consider as spring assessments are made. The following elements may all play a role in winter survivability. As management options are considered, remember that injured alfalfa stands can exhibit delayed regrowth, but may be capable of recovering. Be careful not to rush into alternative options if the stand can be maintained for acceptable production.

Alfalfa winter injury assessment and management

Emergency forages: Warm season grasses

Emergency forages at Rosemount, 2014.
In an effort to maximize forage production during the relatively short growing seasons of the upper Midwest, semi-dormant alfalfa varieties have been heavily promoted and widely adopted, which can increase the chance of winter injury and winterkill. During the 2012-2013 winter, significant acres of alfalfa in the state of Minnesota experienced winter injury and winterkill.

In years where alfalfa is injured by the winter and cool, wet springs persist, options to replant both annual row crops and forages can become more limited. Warm season grasses could provide an alternative emergency forage during such years.

Alternative annual forages: Warm-season grasses

Alfalfa establishment

Since alfalfa production spans several years, it is important to start off with the highest productive stands possible. The UMN Forage Team adheres to the six following management strategies for optimal alfalfa establishment: (i.) field selection, (ii.) fertility management, (iii.) seeding dates, (iv.) field preparations and seeders, (v.) seeding depth, (vi.) seed-to-soil contact, and (vii.) seeding rates.

Alfalfa establishment: Steps to maximize yield
2017 Alfalfa Field Crop Trials Results

For more information, visit the University of Minnesota's Forage production website.
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