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Winterkill worries? You still have forage options

Agriculture.com Staff 04/30/2008 @ 9:15am

The winter of 2008 just won't die! Reports in part of the western and central Corn Belt indicate some of the region's alfalfa is falling victim to winterkill as temperatures linger around the freezing mark.

The winterkill -- this year most noted in northern Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- creates a dilemma for growers. Some damage may not be severe enough to justify plowing it up and planting a new crop. But, it takes a sharp eye to make the distinction between what's worth salvaging and what should be replanted.

In general, counting healthy plants per square foot and accounting for the age of the plants in question are the best ways to tell whether or not the alfalfa stand is a "keeper," says Iowa State University agronomist and forage specialist Stephen Barnhart.

"Research would say that a 'keeper' field with no appreciable yield loss would be a first-production-year field with 12 or more healthy plants per square foot; second- and third-production-year fields, six or more crowns per square foot; and older fields, four or more healthy plants per square foot," Barnhart says. "Any field with less than that stand level will likely produce proportionally less yield per acre."

Beyond being able to gauge winterkill damage, another obstacle to optimal production is in management. The damage may come too late for the producer to make adjustments, for example. "Producers often choose to retain less-productive fields out of necessity or convenience," Barnhart adds.

Mother Nature's thrown alfalfa producers another curveball in the form of a wet spring that, in some case, has delayed spring hay and pasture seedings beyond the normal window. In Iowa, Barnhart says, the normal time for seeding hay stretches to late April.

Can you achieve a good stand beyond that window? Barnhart says it's possible by noting a few key conditions.

"The 'end of the spring forage planting season' is limited by seedling development and growth into the summer months," he says. "The increasingly dry and hot soil surfaces in late May and June increase the risk that the small forage seedings do not establish. If conditions turn normal or hotter and dryer than normal, the risk of late-planted forage seeding failures increases.

"If late-May and early-June conditions remain cooler and wetter than normal, then later-than-desired spring forage seedings may survive very well."

The winter of 2008 just won't die! Reports in part of the western and central Corn Belt indicate some of the region's alfalfa is falling victim to winterkill as temperatures linger around the freezing mark.

If you feel you've missed your alfalfa reseeding window altogether, there are other options to consider, some of which that can be planted as late as early July. According to University of Wisconsin Extension forage agronomist Dan Undersander, small grain/field pea mixtures are good choices for alternative forage from mid-April to mid-May. These include:

  • Oats and peas
  • Spring triticale and peas
  • Barley and peas
  • Oats
  • Spring triticale
  • Barley

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