Taking an extra alfalfa cutting in fall adds to yield and doesn’t harm the stand. But it probably isn’t economical, say University of Missouri researchers.
They cut alfalfa at 28-, 35- or 42-day intervals during the growing season. Half of each treatment was cut again in early November.
During the five-year study, cutting less frequently in summer almost always led to higher fall-cutting yields. On average, plots harvested every 28 days yielded only 0.28 ton/acre in fall, compared with 0.44 and 0.56 ton/acre for plots cut every 35 or 42 days.
Since all treatments had the same number of days to regrow before the fall harvest, stress from frequent cutting in summer was blamed for the reduced fall regrowth.
In three of the five years, fall-harvested plots yielded the same as unharvested plots the following spring. In the other two, first-cutting yields were 0.25 and 0.61 ton/acre lower in fall-harvested plots. The yield loss was caused by winter weather, not the previous year’s cutting frequency.
Stand persistence wasn’t affected by any of the treatments. But net yield (fall harvest minus the following spring’s yield reduction) averaged just 0.25 ton/acre. Given the low net yield and the fact that fall weather usually is unfavorable for drying hay, the researchers concluded that fall alfalfa cuttings won’t add to profits.