Many dryland alfalfa fields have been sitting dormant for weeks. Yet they could start to regrow if rain falls soon, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist.
How to manage such fields will depend on when that rain comes and if it’s enough to support regular growth rates, he says. “Since we are approaching the usual winterizing season for alfalfa, alfalfa should be allowed to grow without any harvest until mid-October. About the only exception to that recommendation might be to consider a salvage harvest or a stimulation harvest.”
A salvage harvest may be warranted if: 1) your alfalfa has gone fully dormant due to drought, 2) there is enough standing growth to harvest economically, and 3) that standing growth is starting to drop leaves. It doesn’t matter if it rains or not. Harvest shouldn’t hurt the stand and will give you some needed feed.
A stimulation harvest would involve cutting off any standing crop immediately before or as soon as possible after a heavy rain to encourage new shoots. Regrowth may develop a little faster without the influence of a standing crop. Cutting isn't necessary, but it might help regrowth.
“It’s been a tough year for alfalfa and without rain some of it may not survive the winter,” says Anderson. “Even with rain, plants will need adequate time to winterize and provide for a better crop in 2013.”