In many parts of the Midwest, this winter has been one for the record books and likely one that most livestock and alfalfa growers would like to forget.
That, however, won’t be possible just yet as it’s still too early for alfalfa fields to reveal what the impacts of excessive cold, snow, ice, and, most recently, flooding will have on productivity.
“It’s nearly impossible to predict how much damage this past winter’s weather did to existing alfalfa fields,” says Bruce Anderson, forage extension specialist for the University of Nebraska. “While alfalfa usually comes through winter in pretty good shape in our area, I’m sure this year there could be plenty of exceptions.”
Writing in last week’s Nebraska Cropwatch newsletter, Anderson says that it will be a couple weeks at least before alfalfa growers might expect to see the beginnings of spring growth. He emphasizes, however, that it will be important to determine the status of fields as early as possible so there is time to institute a Plan B in the case of severe damage.
“Flooded fields may be the most difficult to evaluate, especially if much sediment was left behind,” Anderson says. “Alfalfa that went into winter in good shape might tolerate up to a couple weeks of flooding; however, alfalfa will have a difficult time emerging through more than 2 inches of sediment. Expect poor stands any place where you have thick deposits. In areas with lighter sediment levels, expect some delayed emergence,” he adds.
The forage specialist also emphasizes to remove any debris that might interfere with mowing or could contaminate your hay.
When evaluating fields, it becomes a numbers game. Anderson says for both winter and flood-damaged alfalfa, older, dryland fields that have fewer than 30 new shoots per square foot coming from two or three plants may need to be replaced.
Comparatively, very productive sites, such as irrigated and subirrigated fields, should have at least 40 shoots per square foot from four to six plants.
“Check for these densities in several areas of your fields when the early shoots are 4 to 6 inches tall,” Anderson says.