With wet spring weather likely to cause alfalfa planting delays in many parts of the country this year, it might be worth considering a few planting alternatives, says Bruce Anderson, forage specialist with University of Nebraska Extension.
Anderson points out that typical recommendations for Nebraska are to plant alfalfa by mid-May on dryland sites and by the end of May under irrigation. "Planting later greatly increases the risk of hot, dry, windy weather killing new seedlings before they have enough root system to support the moisture needs of the plants," he says. "This spring, however, planting by these dates may be difficult."
One way to plant more quickly is to seed no-till. "Crop residues of corn, milo, beans and small grains are not a problem for most drills, but ridges along the rows can make the field too rough for comfortable haymaking."
Weeds can be controlled post-emergence using herbicides like Poast Plus or Select for grasses and Buctril, Pursuit, Raptor or Butyrac for broadleaves. "Roundup, of course, can be used with tolerant varieties," says Anderson. "Mowing weeds also helps."
If you can't plant by the deadline and need to meet hay needs, Anderson recommends considering planting an annual forage now and alfalfa in August so it will germinate after the hottest part of the season.
Alternatives to alfalfa using this strategy include sorghum-sudan hybrids and foxtail millet. "Foxtail millet won't regrow after an early August hay harvest, so it may work best. Sorghum-sudans will need to be sprayed or tilled before an August alfalfa planting. Berseem clover, any of the summer annual grasses like cane, pearl millet and sorghum-sudan and even soybeans could be planted for hay if you decide to wait a full year before trying to plant again next spring."