The latest in mowing equipment as well as the benefits of using alfalfa within a crop rotation were two of many presentations made to members of three organizations last week at Wisconsin Dells.

The annual meetings of the Wisconsin Custom Operators, Midwest Forage Association and Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin were combined into a two-day workshop.

At one session, high-capacity self-propelled mowers were critiqued. University of Wisconsin ag engineer Kevin Shinners’ list of advantages: they offer better cutting management, require fewer people and machines, and maintain capacity at slower speeds as compared to smaller machines.

Some of the disadvantages of these machines: the capital outlay; that those with dedicated tractors on the power units can be justified only through high annual usage; and the fact that, if such a machine breaks down, all cutting stops.

Hay growers who may want to add a high-capacity self-propelled mower to their lineup should realize that any labor savings from buying such a machine will be lost if its cost is 10% more than the purchase of two tractor windrowers, Shinners said.

At another session, UW forage specialist Dan Undersander advocated keeping alfalfa in crop rotations. His reasons:
1) Alfalfa provides legume (nitrogen) credits to other crops in a rotation (for more on the subject, watch for the March issue of Hay & Forage Grower).
2) Alfalfa, as well as grasses and other legumes, break disease and insect cycles. And alfalfa can reduce nematodes for succeeding crops.
3) Alfalfa improves soil condition. Its deep roots make channels into the soil for water and biotic movement after the roots have died.
4) Alfalfa in a rotation increases the yield of the next crop. University research shows that corn, corn silage, wheat and canola all yield more following alfalfa than following themselves.
5) Perennial crops reduce erosion because of their continual ground cover.
6) A deep-rooted crop like alfalfa reduces nitrate loss and removes deep nitrogen.
7) A hay crop in a grain rotation can help control weeds for succeeding crops.