Sept. 20, 2016 08:00 AM

Visits to Northern California, South Dakota, and Michigan

Steve Orloff
Farm Advisor/Siskiyou County
University of California-Extension

The weather has taken on a noticeable turn and definitely has a "fall feel." In fact, some areas have already experienced the first fall frost, but it was not severe enough to significantly impact alfalfa growth. The season is winding down, and many growers have completed their last cutting of the year. The last cut is not far off in most other fields.

As mentioned in previous reports, less severe spring frosts resulted in more rapid spring growth setting many alfalfa fields up for an extra cutting. However, with the onset of cooler fall weather, alfalfa growth has slowed appreciably and some growers may have been overly optimistic about an extra cutting. For many fields, it will be more of a "clipping" than a "cutting" and forage quality should be through the roof. Weather so far has been favorable for curing the last cutting; hopefully, this mention won’t jinx it.

It has also been a favorable year weather-wise for grass hay and pasture growth, and seasonal yields overall look very good. New alfalfa fields were seeded the end of last month and are coming along nicely. Hopefully, nighttime temperatures will stay mild so that the alfalfa can become well established before the lows drop to the mid to low 20s.

Karla Hernandez
Extension forage specialist
South Dakota State University

Forage producers across our region are wrapping up with alfalfa cuttings for the season. Most fields on the eastern part of the state were cut an average of four to five times, which is quite respectable. However, producers on the western side of the state only achieved one or two cuttings of thin stands and lower tonnage.

As we move into the fall, many producers are considering a final cutting of alfalfa. It’s generally recommended to cut four to six weeks prior to the first expected killing frost. Usually mid-September is about the cutoff date; later than that might not be the best option as the stand may be at risk of not generating enough regrowth.

During late summer and early fall, alfalfa plants are preparing for winter by developing two major things: (1) cold resistance and (2) storage of energy reserves in their root system. Harvesting alfalfa during this period of time generally allows for a few weeks of regrowth before the first expected killing frost.

A fall harvest increases the risks of stand loss when compared with not fall harvesting. However, some of the risks can be minimized by:

1. Taking at least one harvest during the summer at 1/10 bloom.

2. Fall harvesting young stands (young plants are generally less susceptible to winter injury).

3. Maintaining high soil fertility levels.

4. Planting alfalfa varieties that have good disease resistance and winterhardiness ratings.

Bottom line: As a forage producer, in the fall you must consider if the need for forage now outweighs the potential risk for stand loss over the winter

Bradley Rops (Operations Manager at South East Research Farm) finishes harvesting alfalfa trials at North East Research Farm near South Shore, S.D.

Phil Kaatz
Forage and Field Crop Educator
Michigan State University-Extension

Cooler and wetter weather during the last several weeks has provided forage growers some opportunities to harvest an above-average fourth cutting of alfalfa in many parts of Michigan. This was welcomed by those in areas that had very low yields for second and third cutting.

The good reports on yields have been coupled with excellent quality as producers had a fairly wide window to either chop or bale the crop without rain damage. There are also areas that project their last cutting will be done during the middle of September. Some of these producers have said they think there may be enough warm weather to allow for enough alfalfa regrowth to sufficiently replenish root reserves before a killing frost as they go into the winter.

Producers who finished their last cutting of alfalfa have waited to start corn silage. However, because of the hot summer corn has been maturing very quickly. Those who have earlier maturing hybrids may find that their corn silage moisture is drier than expected, resulting in harder kernels and poor packing conditions. Custom corn silage harvesters have been encouraged to pay special attention to kernel processing this year due to the quick dry down of the corn. Yields have ranged from above average to below average and are closely tied to the amount of rain during the growing season. Those harvesting on time with proper moisture have reported excellent quality so far.

Cover crops continue to be planted into wheat stubble. Additionally, many producers will be planting wheat or cover crops following a harvest of edible beans, early-planted soybeans, and/or early-maturity soybeans now that the Hessian fly date has passed for the southern half of Michigan.