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Alfalfa Options

by Mike Austin

What a difference a week of good weather can make in this years planting progress. After struggling to get any field work done, Wisconsin growers made great progress this past week completing 48% of their spring tillage work and increasing their corn planting rate by 30 points to have 43% of the crop in the ground. Also 70% of the oats are now planted and 11% of the soybean crop. Now this good weather window needs to hold up because over half our corn crop is still not planted and since we are now past May 20th. We have a potential yield loss of a half bushel per acre for everyday longer growers are delayed.

Dairymen also have a decision on what to do with their alfalfa crop. The nicer weather has allowed producers to get a closer look at the crop and winterkill damage is being reported from 15-80%. The most extensive damage seems to be North of Madison and then east through the Fox River Valley and Green Bay. damage is also wide spread along the Iowa-Wisconsin border and into Minnesota.

Besides the quality of the crop, the progress is disappointing as well. While this time last year growers were taking off first crop, this year the height of the crop is only in the 15-17 inch range and the feed quality of the crop is more like jet fuel than quality forage. So patience remains a watch word.

As for the damaged crop. I did speak with UW Forage Specialist Dan Undersander and he explained the three options producers need to consider to get some decent feed out of those stands.  Basically he told me growers have three options. If you have a relatively new stand you can try filling in with grasses or overseeding with Italian ryegrass to increase the yields of your first crop.

Other options would be to plant oats, although seed availability is limited, and the other option is to kill off the stands and plant corn for silage. UW Extension is sponsoring some meetings next week on feeding options and we will be sharing those suggestions in a later post.