As of the date of this writing, I have personally walked numerous fields in South-East Minnesota evaluating alfalfa growth and development. Most of my trade territory runs in the south near Preston, then NE from there to the Winona-Plainview-Zumbrota areas, West across the Interstate 35 corridor near Northfield, and finally south of there to Owatonna and back to Rochester.
What I have generally witnessed are phenomenally good alfalfa stands. By “good,” I mean very healthy looking, very “evenly-distributed” alfalfa with high density. The canopy that has developed to this point is almost totally covering the soil surface and will likely help to reduce moisture evaporative loss from here on. This is both positive from the standpoint that the plant will be able to retain soil moisture as it is needed, but also negative from the standpoint that it is at this time that we can see leaf “drop” and leaf losses due to fungal formations near the base of the plants. With our experience in using HEADLINE as a tool to maintain plant health and reduce leaf loss, I would highly recommend you consider using this technology – but in all honesty if you haven’t done so by now, it is going to be too late to do so on the 1st crop. However, there may be some benefit to looking at using HEADLINE on 2nd crop or a subsequent crop – please talk to me or an agronomist, and we can discuss this further.
The growth on alfalfa I am seeing is at least one week to as much as two weeks ahead of last year, which means we WILL be harvesting sooner – so get your disc-bines and equipment ready to go! The tallest plants in most stands range from 16” to as much 18” tall and somewhere between 225-235 Relative Feed Value in the “vegetative stage” of development. Now that most areas have received a few shots of rain, I think we are sitting adequate on moisture for most of the 1st crop and now it is just a matter of heat units. With what is being predicted, it is of my opinion that many of the tallest plants in these alfalfa stands will range from 26” to as much as 29” in height in the next 15 days. That is a growth rate of approximately 3/4” per day.
While some plants or areas may not grow quite that fast, and others may exceed that, I don’t think these predictions are unrealistic. Figuring normal field losses of 15% and that most plants at harvest will be in the “bud stage,” we should get somewhere around 160-165 Relative Feed Value after storage and fermentation. Most of the stands I am looking at will be ready in 15 days, with some ready a little sooner – like maybe 12 days. So that means we will see some alfalfa being cut as early as May 18 or 19 and even more (or perhaps most) around May 20 to approximately the 23.
Don’t wait too long if you do REDUCE digestibility (RFQ) and you know what that means! I am always here to help if you need assistance in evaluating your alfalfa stands. My goal is to help you become more successful at what you do and make you more profitable. But above all, harvest safely.