Alfalfa faces challenges

Big crop but mediocre quality expected

News editor

Spring and early summer has been an interesting — and frustrating — time for many hay growers in Marion County.

Farmer Brad Wiens said he usually starts harvesting a first cutting of alfalfa early in May, but March and April were so dry there was nothing worth cutting. Fortunately alfalfa recovers well when it does get moisture.

“One thing about alfalfa is it doesn’t die,” Wiens said. “It just waits for rain.”

When rain did arrive, alfalfa bounced back with a fairly large second cutting, said David Lancaster of Cooperative Grain & Supply. A third cutting should provide good tonnage when farmers can get it, he said.

After alfalfa is cut, it needs four or five days of sunshine before it is baled, Wiens said. If the alfalfa is rained on while it’s drying, the quality is hurt, cutting prices by as much as 30 percent.

The past few weeks have had enough rain that growers didn’t have time to cut and dry their alfalfa, Wiens said.

“It’s going to make a lot of tonnage, but it won’t be as high of quality,” he said.

Another complication is that the quality of alfalfa goes down once it grows to maturity. Wiens said that when purple blossoms appear on alfalfa, it has passed its peak.

The reason the quality of alfalfa matters so much is that different qualities are used to feed different kinds of livestock. Hay bales are tested for a measure called relative feed value, which measures several variables that affect the nutrition of livestock feed.

Anything over 175 is high quality that is good for dairy cattle. Dairy cattle need good feed because it correlates to better milk production. Anything with a relative feed value of 150 or less is more appropriate for beef production, which sells for a lower price, Wiens said.

Despite the rain affecting the quality of alfalfa, Lancaster said the rain has been good overall for hay growers.

“We’d have no hay if it didn’t rain,” he said. “It’s not tremendous, not a tragedy, but it’s going to be OK.”Staff photo by Adam Stewart

By the time these small purple flowers appear on alfalfa, it has passed its peak for nutritional value, farmer Brad Wiens said Friday.

 

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