Short-term gain/long-term loss or vice versa—what’s your forage production goal? Alfalfa producers get to answer that question every year as the calendar reaches September. Do I make a final cutting now or wait until just before the first killing freeze to get as much productivity as possible? The timing is critical and has long-lasting impacts on the stand.
From now forward, alfalfa plants are working to store enough carbohydrates to survive the winter. Fail to replenish root reserves adequately before the first killing freeze (24 to 26 degrees F) in the fall, and the stand will be more susceptible than normal to winter damage, resulting in slower green up and early growth next spring. The last cutting prior to fall dormancy needs to be timed so there are four to six weeks of growth time (8 to 12 inches of foliage) before the average killing freeze date to allow adequate time for replenishment of root reserves.
For northeast Kansas, late September is the target date for the last cutting before dormancy. Making one last cutting in mid-October, if significant growth has occurred, could reduce root reserves during a critical time. The plant’s lowest carbohydrate reserves occur when it’s about three to six inches tall. A killing frost at that time could significantly delay green up next spring. After a killing freeze, any remaining forage can be hayed safely—just act quickly before you lose leaves.
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