With Fertilizer Prices Rising, Nitrogen Credits are Golden
Fertilizer prices have put a lot of pressure on farmers to find creative ways to navigate the nutritional demands for the upcoming corn crop. Depending on the alfalfa stand health, farmers could capture 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre. That’s why many are considering an early rotation of alfalfa fields in 2022.
Farmers who raise alfalfa have an opportunity to capture nitrogen credits and to also capture more yield. Research shows a 20% increase in yields for the subsequent crop planted onto those acres. A mature alfalfa tap root can grow down 20 feet, creating a channel that allows the newly developing root to easily access critical moisture.
With commodity prices increasing, the goal should be to leave no yield in the field. Focusing on high-yielding alfalfa will vastly improve the productivity of all crops. It raises the yield ceiling of corn and soybeans in the traditional corn-soybean rotation upwards of 20% while improving the soil.
Alfalfa Seeding Establishment
Reviewing stand establishment details are important for the success of your alfalfa crop:
- Soil pH. Soil pH is important to quickly establish the nitrogen-fixation bacteria. For best performance, try to maintain a soil pH of 6.8 to 7.2.
- Seeding Rate. Although alfalfa is typically seeded at a rate of 16 to 20 pounds per acre, I encourage farmers to experiment on their farm. Simply double seed during one or two passes. More seed equals more plants. To run a successful trial, remember to apply a bit more fertilizer where plant populations are higher. You likely will be surprised with the life of stand. Latham Seeds has partnered with some innovative farmers to conduct replicated seeding rate trials on their farms, and results have been impressive! We have seen a multi-year yield advantage for higher seeding rates. During the first seeding year, our growers have seen an advantage of one-half dry matter (DM) ton and almost one full DM ton advantage in the second year. One ton of high-quality alfalfa is the Midwest is currently valued at $300.
- Seed Bed/Seed Depth: A firm seed bed is critical to properly placing alfalfa seed at ¼ inch and no deeper than ½ inch.
- Companion Crop: Use caution when seeding alfalfa with a companion crop. The key is to not plant companion crops so thick that they actually compete for the critical soil moisture the alfalfa seedling desperately needs. I like a lower to medium rate of oats, say 1 to 1.5 bushels, depending on soil type. Oats emerge quickly, which helps shield the delicate little alfalfa seedling from the intense spring sun. The oat roots also help hold soil in place during intense spring rains. In addition, oats tend to help reduce weed pressure.
Including high-yielding Latham brand alfalfa in your crop rotation is using a new interstate to increase soil biology and help meet nutrient demands of rotational crops. Research has shown that corn planted on rotated alfalfa can help unleash more of the genetic potential yield.