When part of his beef-cow herd went to the sale ring in 1996, Rick Ridge decided he was also done with some of his old fescue pastures.
"I've developed a good market for alfalfa hay," says Ridge, from Grant City, MO.
"Fescue sells for around $40/ton, but I can get $65/ton or more for round-baled alfalfa."
What Ridge didn't want to do was tear up his 15-year-old fescue field. The 35-acre clay-soil field had high erosion potential, so no-tilling the alfalfa seed seemed like the best option.
The conversion began in 1996.
"I cut a hay crop off the field July 1, let it grow until fall, then sprayed it after the first frost," Ridge reports. "Fescue sucks nutrients down to the roots, so you get a better kill if the crop is actively growing when you spray it."
He used 1 qt of Roundup and 1 qt of 2,4-D in 15 gallons of water per acre.
Soil tests called for 60 lbs of phosphorus and 120 lbs of potassium, which Ridge applied as a dry blend. He also applied 2 tons of lime per acre.
"The last week of April in 1997, I sprayed on another quart of Roundup. There were some light patches of fescue and some weed pressure from musk thistle, cocklebur, millet and velvetleaf," he says.
"You have to make sure you get a good kill in the fall," Ridge adds. "I missed one spot of fescue the first time, but hit it in the spring. The herbicide turned it brown, but the fescue came backand killed out the alfalfa."
Two days after he sprayed herbicide, Ridge planted alfalfa using a no-till drill with a coulter cart, seeding 20 lbs per acre at a depth of 3/4".
"The drill had 10" spacings, which is a little wide for alfalfa. So I set the drill for a half rate and crisscrossed the field."
That seeding rate is at the high end of what is recommended, but Ridge believes it's the key to high yields.
"Fifteen pounds of seed is fine if you want a grass mix," he says. "But for top yields of alfalfa, you can't skimp on seed. I've got some fields that are 10 years old and still cut 5 tons of alfalfa, even in a dry year."
Patience is a virtue when planting alfalfa, says Ridge.
"You don't want to plant too early in the spring. If that plant reaches the two-leaf stage and gets hit with frost, you're in trouble."
Ridge was "very pleased" with the new alfalfa stand, but dry weather limited first-year production to 11/2 tons/acre from a single cutting. He's anxious to see if any fescue comes back this spring.