NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — Is there still an opportunity to take October alfalfa cuttings? And when making those decisions, which stands could handle a late season cut?
Alfalfa stands with at least six weeks of regrowth in mid-October will have developed adequate winter-hardiness. It also has begun to go dormant because of shorter days and cooler temperatures. Harvest can be completed, but is still a stress on the plant. October hay is high quality and offers an opportunity, but the success of this scenario is also highly dependent on weather. A harsh, long winter or cool, limited sunny days in fall during the recovery period could further stress the stand. Also taking a late alfalfa cutting could cause lower alfalfa yields next spring.
Considerations for choosing fields suitable for fall harvest.
-Only cut 3 times or at a frequency longer than 30 days between cuttings
-Stands under 3 years old
-Adequate soil fertility and a soil pH near 6.8
-Well drained fields, with no drainage issues
-Low incidence/history of crown and root rot
-Varieties with high disease tolerance and winter hardiness ratings
Hay harvest logistics can be challenging, because alfalfa dries and cures very slowly in October. If you do cut hay check weather reports, use a conditioner to speed dry-down, spread windrows wide for extra exposure to sunlight, and consider using a preservative to protect hay that’s baled at higher than normal moisture levels. When possible, it’s better to harvest alfalfa as haylage in October. Less drying is needed, and since drying is slower, haylage can be made at a more uniform moisture content than in summer. October alfalfa also tends to preserve well as haylage.
Bottom line: healthy stands are good candidates for October cutting, also using haylage may be your best bet when harvesting alfalfa late.
— Megan Taylor, Nebraska Extension
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