Plant height is more important than maturity when deciding when to cut alfalfa, says Dwain Meyer, North Dakota State University agronomist.

Meyer points out that, when temperature and moisture are favorable and alfalfa grows tall, it reaches optimal maturity earlier than when plants are short. That’s why, when growers take all cuttings at a given maturity stage, such as late bud, they’re often disap-pointed in the quality, especially the first cutting. That cutting is usually tall, and may have reached optimal quality before late bud stage.

Typically, he says, taking the first cutting at late vegetative to very early bud gets the best hay. The optimal cutting stage for the second, third and fourth cuttings typically is mid to late bud, 25-30% bloom and 50% bloom, respectively.

“Adjust maturity at harvest based on plant height to get prime hay in the bale,” Meyer advises.

PEAQ (Prediction Equations for Alfalfa Quality) sticks can help, he says. PEAQ sticks are available from the Midwest Forage Association for $10 each. To order one, log on to www.midwestforage.org.