Increase the Odds of Strong Alfalfa Emergence
The deck is admittedly stacked against fragile alfalfa seeds planted into cold spring soils. However, forage growers rely on a well-established alfalfa stand to pay dividends for several years.
After first deciding which fields to plant to alfalfa, the next decision is alfalfa variety selection. Seed sales representatives and universities can provide varietal comparisons.
Forage experts at DuPont Pioneer suggest growers focus their selection process by considering where their needs fit within five categories of alfalfa varieties. These categories include Yield, Forage Quality, Western-Adapted Varieties, Multiple Pest Resistance and Lodging Resistance.
The next step before planting is to take soil tests to determine fertility needs and ensure a soil pH between 6.5 and 7 for alfalfa. In clay and loam soils, a planting depth between 0.25" and 0.5" is perfect. On sandy soils, planting depths of 0.5" to 1" are recommended.
When it's time to plant, it is important to ensure the ground is fit from a moisture perspective, and that the seedbed is properly prepared. Growers should plant at a seeding rate between 12 and 18 pounds of pure live seed (PLS) per acre, after subtracting the weight of seed coatings.
Finally, growers should re-consider a longstanding practice of suppressing weeds during alfalfa stand establishment by planting a perennial "nurse crop" such as oats with alfalfa. Nurse crops have been shown to compete with alfalfa plants, reducing yields. Researchers today recommend against planting nurse crops, unless there is a need for erosion control during early stand establishment.
With these management practices, and a little help from Mother Nature, forage growers can look forward to harvesting healthy, productive alfalfa stands.
For more information, visit www.pioneer.com/silagezone or contact your local Pioneer sales professional.