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Alfalfa - first cut timing for top quality

Alfalfa - first cut timing for top quality

By Scout Nelson

Spring signals the green-up of alfalfa fields, and with it, the commencement of the Alfalfa Harvest Alert program, now in its 28th year. This initiative, a collaboration between the Central Minnesota Forage Council, University of Minnesota Extension, agribusinesses, and local farmers, focuses on optimizing the timing of the first alfalfa cut to balance yield and quality.

The program begins monitoring when alfalfa reaches 14 to 16 inches in height. Twice-weekly cuttings on Monday and Thursday mornings are analyzed for key quality metrics such as Relative Feed Quality (RFQ), Relative Feed Value (RFV), and Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF). These factors are crucial for making informed harvest decisions.

The predictive tool used in this program, the Predictive Equation for Alfalfa Quality (PEAQ), estimates RFV and NDF based on the maturity and height of the tallest stems.

When alfalfa reaches about 24 inches and starts showing buds, it indicates a prime time for harvesting. This stage offers a significant biomass suitable for high-quality dairy forage.

Data collection for this program typically starts in mid-May, based on last year's schedule which ran from May 15th to May 25th. All the data gathered since the program's inception in 1997 is available through the Alfalfa Harvest Alert Data Tool.

This interactive tool allows users to sort and compare data by year, county, and grower, providing a comprehensive look at past performance and aiding in current year decisions.

As the 2024 growing season progresses, the Alfalfa Harvest Alert Data Tool will continue to be updated with the latest information, serving as a crucial resource for participating farmers throughout the year.

This program exemplifies the benefits of collaborative agricultural efforts, leveraging local expertise and data-driven insights to enhance forage production practices.

Photo Credit -gettyimages-goodlifestudio

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Categories: Minnesota, Crops, Alfalfa, Harvesting

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