Firstcuttingofalfalfamostim.cfm First cutting of alfalfa most important
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First cutting of alfalfa most important

By D. Bruce Bosley
CSU Extension Agent/cropping systems

CUTTING ALFALFA--Local Ford County farmer swathing alfalfa. (Photo by Diana Derstein.)

Bruce Anderson, Nebraska's Extension Forage Specialist says the first cutting of alfalfa often is the most important cutting of the year. It usually produces the most yield and its forage quality changes fastest from day to day. This spring alfalfa started slowly, but could begin to grow fast and decline quickly in quality.

Many growers plan to cut alfalfa soon after first blooms appear, but weather can cause long delays and sometimes alfalfa does not bloom very aggressively in spring. In addition, waiting until alfalfa begins to bloom often results in hay that is too low in quality for dairy use.

Taking the first alfalfa cutting before plants bloom or even before they form buds may be a good option for some producers this year.

Cutting healthy, vigorously growing alfalfa after it gets about 15 inches tall has several advantages:

--Feed value can be very high.

--Weather may be better for cutting now than later in spring.

--Harvest can be spread out, if needed.

--Some insect and disease problems can be reduced by early harvest.

--The second cutting probably will be ready before summer heat lowers its forage quality.

Yield will be lower from this early first cutting, but much of it will be made up in later harvests. Regrowth for second harvest probably will be a bit slower, especially if the alfalfa experienced winter injury. It may be better to allow winter injured stands to begin to bloom before cutting first harvest so plants recover more from their winter stress.

To maintain long-term yields, allow a longer than normal recovery after the first or second cutting.

Northeast Colorado farmers often joke that it takes someone putting down the first cutting to bring on the rains. The fact is that very long-term precipitation records show that the end of May and first of June has the highest probability of rainfall than for any other time of the year.

I suggest, watching weekly weather forecasts and take advantage of the first extended dry period in May to take a first cutting of Alfalfa to start this year's harvests. The speed of regrowth for second cutting depends in large part on how rapidly the first cutting windrows are taken off the field.

Please contact me, Bruce Bosley about these or other cropping systems or natural resource topics at 970-522-3200 extension 285 at Sterling or 970-542-3540 at Fort Morgan.


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