5 Tips for Planting Alfalfa

Randy Welch
National Alfalfa Agronomist

Alfalfa has a wide range of recommended seeding dates. In the Upper Midwest, alfalfa fields can be seeded anytime from mid-April through May. Early June for northernmost dairy regions is fine. Like with any seed, soil temperatures and soil moisture together are important for germination. Seeding too early in conditions that are too cold delays seedling emergence and potential stand density. Planting too late dries out the top layer of soil where we want the alfalfa seeds placed, making it more difficult for alfalfa plants to establish themselves.  
 
If you have land available for alfalfa in late summer, optimal seeding dates are July 15 through August in the Upper Midwest; closer to July 15 for northernmost regions. For growers in warmer climates, seeding into early September is acceptable.
 
Here are my five tips for successfully seeding your alfalfa fields.

1. Perform a soil test. It’s important to know your soil’s pH, potassium and phosphorous levels.

  • pH: A neutral level between 6.8 and 7.1 is ideal.
  • Potassium: 170 parts per million (ppm) is the minimum level.
  • Phosphorous: 25 to 30 ppm is the minimum level.
  • Sulfur and boron levels: A NutriSolutions® tissue test will provide guidelines. 

2. Control seeding depth. Plant alfalfa seeds three-eighths of an inch below the soil surface. In corn, we talk about precision planting, and the focus is on seed spacing. Precision planting for alfalfa means controlling seeding depth. The goal is to establish about 30 to 35 plants per square foot at the end of establishment season.  GroZone® plus Advanced Coating® Zn seed treatment contains several components to help plants get off to a fast, healthy start.
 
3. Check herbicide carryover. Consider the crop you had planted in that field last year. If it was corn and there was a residual chemistry from that crop, know before you grow. Any residual chemistry that is present could inhibit alfalfa establishment. A dry, cool spring may increase the chances of herbicide carryover.
 
4. Control weeds. Roundup Ready® Alfalfa is an important trait and helps many growers achieve good stands by controlling weeds during establishment when seedlings are vulnerable. The first 30 days of an alfalfa seedling’s establishment are very important. If you don’t have adequate weed control, you’ll lose alfalfa seedlings. It is difficult to re-establish a thin alfalfa stand, so we don’t want to lose seedlings to weeds. A fall application of Roundup® on Roundup Ready® Alfalfa is an ideal way to get winter annual weeds in your fields under control.
 
5. Try a new variety. The HarvXtra® alfalfa varieties HVX HarvaTron and HVX Driver by CROPLAN®, both with the HarvXtra® reduced-lignin alfalfa trait, can provide 17 percent higher neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFD) across cuttings compared to conventional varieties.* These new alfalfa variety options give you the flexibility to maintain harvest schedules for improved quality or increase time between cuttings, which can result in improved forage quality, added yield potential or increased stand persistence opportunity.
 
As in football, the best defense is a good offense. Make sure your alfalfa fields are up to the challenge. Create a game plan to increase your yield and quality potential, and to help make 2017 a winning year.  
 
*Data is an average of CROPLAN® HarvXtra® Harvatron, Megatron and Driver varieties compared to LegenDairy XHD and Hi-Gest® 360, harvested in 2014 and 2015 from Nampa, Idaho; Touchet, Wash.; Boone, Iowa; West Salem, Wis.; and Mt. Joy, Pa.
 
Advanced Coating, CROPLAN, GroZone and NutriSolutions are registered trademarks of Winfield Solutions, LLC. Roundup and Roundup Ready are registered trademarks of Monsanto Technology LLC.
HarvXtra is a registered trademark of Forage Genetics International, LLC.

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