This past year’s harsh winter damaged or killed many alfalfa fields in Federated’s service areas and now it’s time to get a new crop growing. This is the week for fall alfalfa and hay seeding.
“[Alfalfa] is a high value crop,” said Craig Loen, Federated Agronomist at the Osceola location, and “the crop needs to last for multiple (4-7) years.” But longevity doesn’t happen by chance.
“You need to know what your nutrient levels are in the soil, in advance, in order to have successful stand establishment,” he said. Grid sampling (using a 2.5-acre grid) is the best option for determining nutrient needs; traditional composite sampling (up to 20-acres per sample) provides an average of nutrients “but it is not a very good indication of the actual nutrients across the field,” said Loen.
With soil test results in hand, correcting pH is at the top of the to-do list for alfalfa and hay. It takes up to two years to correct a low pH level with ag lime.
Balancing phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) is the next priority since alfalfa and hay require high levels of these nutrients, and they need to be applied pre-plant since P “doesn't move much when it is applied on top of the soil,” said Loen.
Whether seeding due to winter kill or it’s simply time to replace or rotate crops, fall alfalfa and hay seeding needs to happen soon enough (in other words, ASAP) to give the seeds time to germinate before the fall freeze. “Alfalfa needs to get a crown established to help it survive the winter,” Loen said.
As for established alfalfa and hay stands, Loen emphasized the need to feed them. Multiple harvests remove a large amount of nutrients from the soil each year.
“Replacing the nutrients each season is critical in extending your stand life, nourishing the roots and crowns to withstand the harsh winter and show a high return on investment,” he said.
Whether for new seeding or established stands, your Federated Agronomist can provide field-by-field recommendations for fall seeding and fall fertilization (and talk to Keith Steiner in Princeton about fall fertilizer pricing, too).