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Too Much Hay? It’s OK To Skip Cutting The Alfalfa

With a lot of last year”s alfalfa crop still in storage and production high all across the US this summer, farmers may want to consider skipping a cutting this summer.

“Hay prices are very low now,” says Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin-Extension/Madison forage and grazing specialist. “So some people are wondering if they can simply not harvest alfalfa until some is needed again.”

A harvest of alfalfa can be skipped without damaging the stand under certain conditions, he said.

“When alfalfa is not harvested, it will simply put more carbohydrates in the roots and build up food reserves and taproot and crown size. The next growth will begin to come through the existing stand after flowering. The only major thing to watch for is to make sure that the alfalfa does not lodge and form mats,” Undersander, said, explaining that this will cause the alfalfa underneath to die because of shade and mold.

The first harvest from fields where a harvest has been skipped will be low quality due to residue from the unharvested cutting, he added. This problem can be overcome by flail chopping mature (full flower) alfalfa back onto the field, making sure not to cover the crowns with chopped material.

“A best option may be not to harvest fields that are to be plowed down which will build soil organic matter and increase nitrogen credits for next year, while continuing to harvest fields to be maintained in alfalfa,” Undersander said.