NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — Working on getting corn and beans planted? Don’t look now, but alfalfa harvest is approaching fast.
With a late start this spring, we’ve been busy planting and turning animals out to grass. It isn’t time to relax just yet because your alfalfa may soon be ready to cut.
As we look at alfalfa conditions across the state, first cutting of alfalfa should be happening soon. Folks needing high quality alfalfa for dairy cows or for a cash crop may be looking for the next available good weather period and planning their harvest.
Being aggressive on the first cutting is critical if high forage quality is needed. Alfalfa’s forage quality changes faster during the first spring growth than at any other time of the year. Plants are maturing and temperatures are increasing; both causing quality to decline. So don’t delay your first cutting if high quality is needed.
But what about alfalfa for beef cows? That might be a little different story, especially if you need to rebuild hay supplies. Normally we get our highest total yield by waiting until alfalfa is near full bloom. Not only is yield highest, this also uses available soil moisture most efficiently for alfalfa growth. Despite some recent rain, some dryland fields may need a bit more rain for good summer and fall harvests since most deep subsoil moisture was depleted last year. Even if we end up with a dry summer, with a good first cut you will at least have some hay of decent enough quality to feed your beef cows next winter.
Timing of hay harvest is important whether your needs are for high quality or for high yield. With alfalfa ready to cut soon this spring, don’t miss your best time.
— Ben Beckman, Nebraska Extension
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