Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best
Usually at this time of year, our alfalfa is waking up and ready to stretch from its long winter nap.
Plants typically break dormancy and regrow as temperatures warm through March, but many alfalfa fields throughout Latham Country are still covered by snow.
Some areas across our trade territory have received at least a foot more snow this season, but much of it fell after the New Year. Before large amounts of snow fell, we experienced several extremely cold days plus the Polar Vortex. Winter 2014 goes down as the Twin Cities’ coldest in 35 years. Fourteen Wisconsin cities observe the coldest winter on record. Iowa goes through its ninth coldest winter.
Without a protective barrier of insulating snow when these cold air temps hit, alfalfa plants are more susceptible to winter injury. The risk for crown damage and winter kill is very high when soil temperatures reach 13 to 15 degrees.
Last year was the most winter kill I had ever seen since I started scouting alfalfa about two decades ago. Winter damage in 2013 was puzzling as all fields were affected: new stands, old stands, north slopes, south slopes. It didn’t seem to matter if there was a late cutting the fall before or whether there was foliage left to catch snow. Each grower had a different experience, and the net affect was some record-breaking winter kill in some areas of our marketing geography.
Based on past experiences, I’m suggesting that we plan for the worst and hope for the best. There is nothing one can really do right now other be aware of a potential problem and get ready to scout once the snow melts and alfalfa plants emerge. Similar to last season, prepare a plan to interseed a quick growing grass like Italian rye grass to help salvage some tonnage in partially damaged fields.