Seeding spring wheat instead of oats as an alfalfa companion crop “can provide excellent additional income this year,” say University of Wisconsin extension specialists. But they emphasize that the crop must be managed differently than oats to ensure good yields and a productive alfalfa stand after the wheat is removed. They recommend seeding 1 bu of wheat/acre, which should result in about 18 plants/sq ft. Higher rates will stress the alfalfa more, perhaps resulting in poor stands and lower yields in future years. Nitrogen fertilization for the wheat crop should not exceed 40 lbs/acre, they add.

Leafhoppers can attack alfalfa under a cover crop, so consider planting a leafhopper-resistant variety. Choose a wheat variety with excellent protein scores and make sure the seed is treated with a fungicide to reduce the risk of loose smut. In addition, be prepared to watch for plant diseases and spray with fungicide if necessary. Spring wheat is more susceptible to a number of diseases than is winter wheat.

Another option to consider is planting the wheat this spring and then seeding alfalfa in August after the wheat crop has been removed. Late-summer alfalfa seedings work well if adequate moisture is available for stand establishment. In this scenario, the Wisconsin experts recommend seeding 2½ bu of wheat/acre, resulting in about 40 plants/sq ft.