All is not lost when alfalfa fields die, and there are many options to consider for filling hay needs, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska extension forage specialist. He says reports are coming in about winterkilled alfalfa in low spots of fields where waterlogged soils or ice may have killed plants. He says it’s important to assess the damage in fields where winterkill is suspected.
Some responses need to be early to be successful, such as interseeding oats or another crop into thin stands to boost spring hay production. Others, like tearing up the alfalfa and planting corn, might be decided a little later. However, waiting too long may limit your seed corn choices or cause you to miss the best time to plant a new field to alfalfa, Anderson says.
In alfalfa fields planted last year, new alfalfa can be seeded directly into thinned areas without worrying about autotoxicity. But other options should be considered in older fields. Drilling a bushel or two of oats per acre as soon as possible is a good short-term remedy for a cutting or two. Another option is to drill 15-20 lbs of Italian ryegrass. “It will begin to contribute around second cutting and usually continue until first cut next year,” he says. “For an all-legume hay option, interseed red clover.”
Anderson says the best long-term solution probably is to add a perennial grass. Orchardgrass, festulolium and endophyte-free tall fescue may be the best choices. “You need to interseed as early as possible and take a super-early first cutting to reduce competition from the alfalfa,” he states.