5. Evaluate cropping options
Do not compromise your long term cropping or feeding strategy. The first goal should be to set up for a normal cropping strategy in 2014 while trying to meet this year's feed needs. Use available acres to plan for adequate forage inventory. It is easier to purchase grains than forages.
- Assess available acres to meet feed needs.
- Plan for adequate corn silage. Corn silage provides the greatest dry matter and nutrient yields per acre.
- Plant corn on alfalfa acres that are not salvageable – making use of nitrogen left behind by alfalfa.
- If you need immediate feed, harvest alfalfa early and follow with corn or soybeans. Remember the possible reduced yield of other crops.
- Evaluate options on stands with partial winter injury. Consider interseeding a fast growing grass to increase yield. This should increase yields for second and subsequent crops. One option is:
- Five to 10 pounds per acre of Italian or an annual ryegrass depending on how much winter injury has occurred.
- If the goal is to salvage the field beyond 2013, consider perennial ryegrass, bromegrass, or orchardgrass.
- Plant new alfalfa on other acres. Replace acres that you cannot salvage plus any stands that are marginal and you are just keeping for feed this year. Check to make sure that last year's herbicides don't leave a residue problem and pH and soil nutrients are reasonably suited for alfalfa. Spring seeded alfalfa should provide new alfalfa feed about July 1.
- Seed small grains for forage harvest at the end of June, then seed to brown midrib sorghum sudan grass for 1 or 2 cuttings.
Careful planning will help reduce the economic impact of significant alfalfa winter injury. Work with your management team to assess the damage and develop a plan to meet this year's feed needs. Develop the goal of returning to a normal cropping strategy for 2014 and do not compromise long term farm profitability.
For further details and updates, check the University of Minnesota Crop News updates at http://www1.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/crops/spring-issues/#forages and the University of Minnesota Dairy Extension webpage at www.extension.umn.edu/dairy. Both sites will continue to add updates to their forage and feeding sections. Another excellent source is the University of Wisconsin Extension at http://www.uwex.edu/ces/forage/articles.htm#other.