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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Maximizing Yield and Quality of Alfalfa

item Martin, Neal

Submitted to: Four-State Forage Conference
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: March 25, 2003
Publication Date: March 25, 2003

Technical Abstract: Alfalfa is the leading perennial legume harvested in the United States. In 2002, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois harvested 22.6 million tons or 27% of the U.S. total. Slightly over 50% of alfalfa production in Wisconsin, the leading alfalfa state is harvested as haylage. Maximizing alfalfa yield and quality has tremendous economic significance to these four midwestern states. High-quality alfalfa provides protein, minerals, vitamins and effective fiber in diets of dairy cattle. This alfalfa also supports high dry matter intakes in high-producing cows. Growing alfalfa in rotations with corn supports higher corn yields, reduces nitrogen fertilizer and pesticide needs of corn, soil erosion, and surface water runoff, and acts as a scavenger for nitrate accumulations in soil. The key to economic and environmental sustainability of dairy enterprises in the Midwest is maximizing the yield and quality of alfalfa. Alfalfa yield is directly related to increasing profitability. Management of alfalfa for yield and quality requires attention to three areas: 1) maximizing yield and quality by selection of fields with productive well-drained soils; no perennial grass infestation; correcting soil pH and nutrient deficiencies; and planting high yielding varieties for rapid establishment of alfalfa; 2) managing production for high yields by annual applications of required nutrients via fertilizer or manure; managing production to minimize yield loss from weed invasion, disease infestation, insect invasion, and 3) harvest quality and yield by minimizing wheel traffic damage, timely harvest of standing alfalfa at first cut; a second harvest 30 days after the first cut; delaying third cut for at least 45 days after second unless it is 25% bloom; and avoiding a fourth harvest during September through mid-October.

Last Modified: 4/19/2015
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