Growers should avoid excessive wheel traffic in alfalfa fields, which can reduce yields in later cuttings, says Dwane Miller, ag educator with Penn State University Extension.
Besides causing soil compaction, wheel traffic breaks off regrowing alfalfa stems, according to University of Wisconsin research. The study compared the effects of equipment on regrowing alfalfa from two days after harvest to five days after. For every day after a field was cut, wheel traffic caused up to 6% in yield losses during the next cutting.
“If traffic was delayed for four days after cutting, losses could exceed 20% on the next cutting,” says Miller.
Here’s what he recommends may help:
- Planting traffic-tolerant varieties.
- Using small tractors when possible to reduce soil compaction. Don’t use tractors larger than necessary for the job.
- Avoiding unnecessary trips across the field when mowing and conditioning in a single operation, driving loaded wagons/trucks off the field. collecting bales and driving on an alfalfa field when harvesting an adjacent field.
- Considering the use of larger harvesting equipment to minimize trips over the field. Larger equipment, however, can increase compaction, he notes.
- Avoiding using tractors with dual wheels.
- Harvesting as quickly as possible after cutting.
- If applying manure, spreading as soon as possible after harvest.
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