Farmers, you can still switch to corn if alfalfa stands are looking marginal


WOOSTER, Ohio — Farmers wondering if they should keep their alfalfa or rotate to a different crop still have time to switch to corn if their alfalfa stands aren’t performing.

Thanks to warmer, drier conditions this year, the 2012 growing season is providing a prime opportunity for growers to evaluate marginal alfalfa stands following the first harvest, said Rory Lewandowski, an agricultural and natural resources educator for Ohio State University Extension.

In fact, growers still have time to plant corn for silage if they determine after the first cutting that their alfalfa stands are questionable, he said.

“Last year, we had so much rain that everything was behind and even if growers wanted to rotate out, they couldn’t do that because the fields were just too wet,” Lewandowski said.

“This is one of those years that the weather has cooperated enough to open up the opportunity to do this.

“Growers should look and see if the stand is productive enough to meet their production goals. But if not, with the weather we’ve had, they can rotate out and get some more production out of that land.”

Don’t reseed alfalfa

Alfalfa is typically rotated into corn, Lewandowski said, but occasionally the question comes up regarding whether it is possible to plant alfalfa back into these old alfalfa stands to either thicken up the old stand or to start over with a new seeding.

He said this practice is not generally recommended due to autotoxicity potential that inhibits the germination of new alfalfa seedings and/or inhibits the root growth of new seedlings.

The general recommendation is to rotate out of alfalfa for one growing season.

But growers who do decide to rotate have to also consider what they are going to rotate to.

“Corn silage is good this time of year, or another annual crop for forage.”

Evaluating stands

Growers can use two basic methods to evaluate stand productivity: evaluate the stand density in terms of plants per square foot; or evaluate by counting the number of stems per square foot, Lewandowski said.

Older stands naturally have fewer plants per square foot, but older plants, if they are healthy, produce more stems as compared to a younger plant.

“Regardless of the method used, sample at least 4-6 random areas within the field to arrive at a decision,” he said.

Both of these methods assume that the objective is a pure or nearly pure stand of alfalfa.

Growers should also determine the number of plants per square foot immediately after a harvest or any time before a harvest.

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