3 Tips for Assessing Spring Alfalfa Stands

Think of your alfalfa field as a work of art. Your canvas is 43,560 square feet. Our piece is titled, “Profits for 2022” crop season.

Although every square foot has always counted, 2022 is especially important when the commodity prices are as strong. The top three most valuable crops are corn, soybeans and alfalfa, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Each crop is commanding strong prices, but good quality alfalfa is bringing more than $300/ton. A well-managed, strong alfalfa stand can yield more than 5 dry matter (DM) tons per acres with lower input demands verses corn and soybeans. Plus, alfalfa seed costs can be amortized over three to four years after the first stand.Alfalfa3


How can you make the most of existing alfalfa crop? Scout your field this spring. Watch for green up; be patient.

Tips for assessing spring stands:

  1. If the alfalfa isn’t greening up in some areas of field, grab a shovel and dig roots. It’s important to perform dig up samples from different areas within a field to capture the variability. Split crowns to look at crown health. Take the time to count the number of healthy plants per square foot, as well as how many stems per plant. Our goal is to have 4 to 5 strong, healthy plants per square foot or at least 55 stems in that square foot.
  2. If the average stem density is low in some areas of field but not in others, consider interseeding 5 to 10 pounds of Italian ryegrass to bridge forage for this season. Italian ryegrass establishes quickly, provides tonnage, is good quality, and allows you to capture the value of the alfalfa that is still alive. If you can rotate this field into corn production, you could recognize a 50% nitrogen savings for your corn.
  3. Calculate yield potential and consider rotating the crop. The University of Wisconsin – Madison Extension provides a calculator to help estimate yield based on the number of stems in a square foot. Once the stem number is determined, use this formula to calculate the yield potential of that stand: Yield (tons/acre) = (Stems/ft2 x 0.1) + 0.38
    For example, an alfalfa stand with 50 stems per square foot would have a yield potential of 5.38 tons per acre. Keep in mind that soil, nutrient deficiency, insects, diseases and other factors may affect the actual yield.

The University of Wisconsin – Extension Office has additional resources to assist you with your alfalfa stand. Should you need to establish a new alfalfa stand this fall, contact your Latham® dealer. Latham has a tremendous lineup of alfalfa products to meet your needs!