Oct. 13, 2015 08:00 AM

Visits to Southern California, Wisconsin and Vermont

by Dan Putnam
Extension Forage Agronomist
University of California-Davis

Production has ceased in the Intermountain alfalfa fields, but still continues in the Central Valley (75 percent of alfalfa area) and low deserts of Southern California (15 percent of acreage). The heat waves of summer and September are sad memories in many areas, with the exception of the L.A. basin and low desert, which has experienced scorching record heat this week. This may have been the second-hottest summer on record, we’ll see.

Fall October harvests are thankfully much higher in quality, which makes them desirable for dairies. Dairy markets have shunned lower quality hays this year, but are willing to pay $240 to $260 per ton for Premium and Supreme hays, but more than $100 per ton less for merely “Good” and lower quality hays. Dairy price remains a major bottleneck for alfalfa demand, as the soft exports of milk (due to a strong dollar primarily) is a major factor. Alfalfa exports to China particularly have increased this year, though.

Alfalfa production is way down in California and Nevada, according to USDA, mainly due to acreage — this makes the relatively low price difficult to explain, but makes sense with the relatively low commodity price (corn, soybean) and low dairy price. All eyes these days are on El Nino, which (if predictions are spot on) should bring much needed rain and snow relief to the “exceptionally extreme” California-Nevada drought of 2013 to 2015. If it rains as predicted, it won’t completely “cure” the drought, but should give us a better year next year — or so one hopes.

Plans for the December 2015 Western Alfalfa & Forage Symposium in Reno are coming along with an Irrigation Training day, over 35 speakers and 60 exhibitors planned, and a full discussion of water, economics, quality and pest management. Click for details.

by Dan Undersander
Extension Forage Agronomist
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Yields of alfalfa and grass have been excellent across the state. Harvested forage is generally higher in quality than last year. Wisconsin has had excellent three- to five-day periods without rain for haylage and haymaking, unlike the eastern U.S.

Pastures have also grown well and produced above average forage where fertilized with nitrogen and sulfur. The corn for silage looks excellent in most parts of the state. A few spots have been dry for the last two to three weeks, as they have missed all the sometimes-spotty rains. However, these are small areas.

Droughty alfalfa where the regrowth has been 10 inches or less does not need to be harvested, even if the alfalfa flowers, as regrowth will be the same with or without harvesting and all can be harvested in the last cutting of the year. Interest is turning to fall management of alfalfa (both fertilization and cutting management) for optimal winter survival.

by Heather Darby
Extension Agronomist
University of Vermont

Weather for all of September and October has been favorable with relatively dry conditions and record high temperatures. The weather has helped farmers get the corn crop harvested and the fields seeded with cover crops. Corn silage harvest is coming to a close. Yields have been reported to be “all over the board.” Leaf diseases were reported to nearly “wipe out” some fields by the middle of September. A few fields were sprayed. Some farmers have said this is the best crop they have ever had and others had their lowest yields. Wet weather in June and drought in August ruined many people's corn crop. Because of the favorable weather, farms are taking a final cutting of perennial forage to try and build some feed reserves. The fourth and fifth harvest for some is reported to be heavy yields. Hopefully these late cuttings won't result in winterkill . . . only time will tell.