NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — Has the decision been made for when the last cutting of alfalfa will happen?
September is here and so are the dry conditions in much of Nebraska. When alfalfa is cut for the last time in the fall, it affects winter survival as well as the spring regrowth. As long as it is cut at the right time, the effects won’t be bad. Alfalfa needs 500 growing degree days or approximately six weeks of uninterrupted growth in the fall to fully prepare for winter by building up nutrients in the roots. This typically means that the beginning of the six weeks of growth will be about 3 weeks before the first frost.
The last cutting can either be before the winterization process or after. If cut during, it adds more stress to the alfalfa. During stressful years for alfalfa such as drought, insect and disease pressure, or more than 4 cuttings, the risk of poorer spring regrowth increases. Newer stands, winterhardy varieties, and more disease resistant varieties can typically handle more plant stress.
Another factor to consider is how badly alfalfa hay is needed. If drought has forced the hand to cut alfalfa in less-than-ideal times, the risk of cutting during the winterization process may outweigh the cost of buying expensive hay. Weather can always throw a wrench in our plans so waiting until after the winterization process to cut again would be less risky.
Any cutting of alfalfa is a stress event for the plant. Minimizing additional stress by avoiding the winterization window will help with winter survival and vigorous spring growth.
— Brad Schick, Nebraska Extension
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