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Considerations for Planting Alfalfa in Spring

Producers are trying to get their alfalfa planted. Some areas have been very wet which have made this process very difficult to accomplish. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when planting alfalfa this growing season.

Considerations when planting alfalfa

  1. Alfalfa seed requires a well-drained soil for optimum production. Poor soil drainage can cause problems with soil crusting which may cause poor soil aeration, micronutrient toxicity, and ice damage during winter.
  2. It is important to remember to take soil samples before planting to determine pH and nutrient status of the field.
  3. Seedbed preparation is a critical step to ensure good germination of alfalfa seed. Firm seedbeds will reduce the possibility of planting too deep and will help hold moisture closer to the surface. Packing the soil will help to insure a firm seedbed and good soil moisture retention.
  4. Determining when to plant alfalfa depends on several factors such as soil moisture and cropping practices. For best results in South Dakota alfalfa should be seeded between mid-April to mid-May.
  5. Seed should be covered with enough soil to provide moist conditions for germination. Seed placement of ¼ to ½ inch deep is appropriate on most soils at rates from 10 to 25 lb seed/acre.
  6. Seeding alfalfa with a companion crop such as annual ryegrass, oats, spring barley, or spring triticale can help to minimize weed competition during establishment. However, planting alfalfa without a companion crop allows producers to harvest more alfalfa with higher quality in the seeding year.
  7. Pure stands of alfalfa will produce the highest quality forage and for that reason has the highest demand from the dairy industry. Other producers whose animals’ nutrient requirements are lower may be interested in using alfalfa/grass blends to take advantage of improved persistency while still meeting the nutrient requirements of their livestock.

Source: Karla Hernandez, South Dakota State University, iGrow

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