Don't underestimate the importance of seedbed preparation when establishing alfalfa, warns Wisconsin dairyman Ed Staudinger.

"Alfalfa needs a firm, weed-free seedbed for uniform establishment," he says. "This firmness provides good seed-to-soil contact and brings soil moisture to the germinating seeds."

Staudinger owns and operates a 500-cow dairy farm near Reedsville. His 1,300 tillable acres include 600 acres of direct-seeded alfalfa. He's also a seed salesman.

Loose seedbeds often are the No. 1 cause of poor alfalfa stands, he says.

"A loose seedbed with lots of dirt clods means reduced emergence rates," says Staudinger.

"A seedbed that's worked up too well, one that has a powdery surface, may crust over with excessive rain."

He uses this thumb rule when testing for seedbed firmness: "My footprint should sink no deeper than 3/8". If I walk my field and leave an indentation deeper than that, I firm the field with a pulverizer until I get the firmness I want."

For him, seedbed preparation starts with a field cultivator, followed by a soil groomer with a harrow behind to incorporate herbicides. The final pass before seeding is with a Brillion Pulvi-Mulcher to smooth and firm the seedbed and push down rocks.

He plants 18-20 lbs of seed per acre using a Brillion seeder. Since he doesn't use a nurse crop, he aims for a first-year stand with up to 178 stems per square foot.

He gets two or three first-year cuttings, the first one about 10 weeks after seeding.