Colder- and wetter-than-normal weather has crimped alfalfa growth throughout much of the Upper Midwest so far this spring. Even so, most observers report very few problems with winterkill or heaving heading into the new cropping year. Here's a look at conditions in several individual states:
Indiana: Despite heavy sleet and ice from winter storms, forage crops have shown no noticeable damage this spring, reports Keith Johnson, Purdue University Extension forage specialist.
"With the amount of snowfall and ice we received in early February, it was important for farmers to monitor their fields as the snow and ice melted, because they could have caused serious damage," says Johnson. "We luckily have not seen or heard of any serious damage that was caused by the winter storms."
Even so, Johnson encourages growers to continue inspecting forage fields for heaving and dieback of whole plants or portions of tillers on plants.
Iowa: While one of the coolest Aprils on record has set back alfalfa growth in many parts of the state, there have been relatively few reports of winterkill or heaving problems, according to Brian Lang, agronomist with Iowa State University Extension.
"The crop just hasn't perked up yet because of the cool conditions," says Lang. "Overall, though, in most areas it looks just fine."
Where there has been some winterkill, it's mostly been in low spots on rolling prairie ground in northern Iowa. "These spots resulted from some ice sheeting that formed in February," says Lang. "But most are less than 1/100th acre in size, not really big enough to cause a significant problem."
Michigan: Abundant moisture has been the upside to this spring's weather in most of the state. "Producers have been pretty happy about that," says Jerry Lindquist, grazing and field crops educator for Michigan State University Extension in Osceola County. "Now we just need a little sunshine to move things along. If we can get that, we should be off to a pretty good start on the season."
There is some concern in several northern Michigan counties over reports of crown rot last fall. "It would be premature to speculate on how much damage has been done," says Lindquist. "It will still be a little while before we know whether plants in those fields have completely died out or have just been set back to the point where first cutting will be delayed."
Minnesota: Aside from a few reports of crown damage and broken roots due to heaving in several southeastern counties, Minnesota's alfalfa appears to have had little trouble coping with wintertime weather challenges.
Dan Martens, University of Minnesota Extension educator for Stearns, Morrison and Benton counties, reports that the crop is just starting to green up in his area. "From the reports I've been hearing, there have been just a few problem areas," says Martens. "Those were mostly low spots where water from winter rains and snowmelt damaged the plants or where it was too cold for the plants to break dormancy."
Wisconsin: Growers in the central part of the state who had trouble getting cover crops off newly seeded alfalfa last fall, due to heavy rainfall, will want to monitor stands closely this spring, says Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin Extension forage specialist. "You'll want to walk those fields and assess how good the stands are. If you find 50 stems per square foot or less, our recommendation is to do a single disking and reseed into the stand."
As of early last week, Undersander reports, it was still too early to tell how alfalfa fields in the northern half of the state had fared through the winter months. "In the southern half of the state, we've seen about 4-6" of growth so far. And it looks like the bulk of the alfalfa made it through the winter in pretty good shape."