Spring is a good time to plant alfalfa in Kansas

2012-03-21T13:32:00Z Spring is a good time to plant alfalfa in Kansas Midwest Producer
March 21, 2012 1:32 pm

Spring is a good time to plant alfalfa in KansasMANHATTAN, Kan. - Although most alfalfa is planted in the fall in Kansas, spring is also a good time for planting, said Jim Shroyer, K-State Research and Extension crop production specialist.

"Fall-seeded alfalfa will usually produce more first-year tonnage than spring-seeded alfalfa, but planting in April usually results in more reliable moisture conditions and less risk of poor stand establishment," Shroyer said.

Before planting, producers should have the soil tested for pH, phosphorus and potassium. There is still time to get this done before a spring planting, and the results will pay off for the life of the stand - usually five to seven years, he said.

"Past research in Kansas has shown that applying and incorporating phosphate fertilizer, if recommended by a soil test analysis, results in large increases in productivity. In a no-till situation, phosphate fertilizer can be surface-applied and still have a long-term beneficial effect on yields," he said

Lime may be needed before planting as well, Shroyer added.

"Alfalfa does best when the soil pH ranges from 6.5 to 7.5. If the soil pH is less than 6.5, production will be reduced. At very low pH levels, the stand may be thin and weedy. Applying lime, if needed, before planting alfalfa will pay big dividends," he said.

Growers should make sure there are no weeds growing when alfalfa is planted and make sure there is no herbicide carryover from a previous crop that could injure the seedling alfalfa.

Seeding at the proper depth can help achieve good stands, Shroyer said.

"When seeding alfalfa, plant seed one-quarter to one-half inch deep. Plant about three-quarters inch deep in sandy soils, unless the field is irrigated. For dryland production, use a seeding rate of 8- to 12-pounds per acre in the west, and 12- to 16-pounds per acre in central and eastern Kansas. For irrigation production, use 15 to 20 pounds of seed per acre in all soils," Shroyer said.

"It is also important to use certified, treated and inoculated seed," he advised.

Snow beneficial, protects alfalfa

LINCOLN, Neb. - Big snowstorms have disrupted daily routines and created plenty of headaches for people around the country. For alfalfa growers, though, the snow has been good news, said Bruce Anderson, forage specialist with University of Nebraska Extension.

"Alfalfa loves snow," Anderson said. "In fact, nothing can increase the chance of alfalfa surviving winter better than a thick blanket of snow."

Moderate fall weather in many regions allowed alfalfa plants to harden well for winter, leaving them with a high concentration of nutrients and a low concentration of water in their roots, he noted. This winterized condition enables alfalfa crowns and roots to withstand temperatures as low as 5 degrees above zero.

While that might not sound all that cold to producers in some regions, Anderson pointed out that the soil doesn't get as cold as the air above it. "And when soil is covered with a blanket of snow, this snow acts like a layer of insulation protecting the ground from bitter cold temperatures. Plus, it reduces the rate that soils and alfalfa roots dry out. This is why winters with little snow cover can cause more injury to alfalfa stands, especially if soils also are dry."

Fall management practices can enhance the positive benefits provided by snow. "Tall stubble provides some insulation value itself, and it will catch more snow," said Anderson. "Also, avoiding alfalfa harvest during the so-called risk period from mid-September through mid-October helps alfalfa roots winterize well by building up nutrients and reducing water content."

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