Drought can have a significant impact on alfalfa growth, leading to short and bloomed-out plants that offer limited feed value. When faced with such conditions, alfalfa farmers must make critical decisions on how to manage their crops. Should they cut the drought-stunted alfalfa, leave it as is, graze it, or shred it? In this article, we explore the options available to farmers during dry spells and the potential consequences of each choice.
Understanding the Situation
During drought conditions, dryland alfalfa often experiences stunted growth, with plants remaining just six to twelve inches tall and turning increasingly purple. In such situations, the alfalfa enters a near-dormant state, and its feed value and tonnage gradually decrease due to maturation and loss of leaves caused by insect feeding, diseases, and natural aging.
1. Haymaking Decision
One option for managing drought-stunted alfalfa is haymaking. However, it’s important to consider the potential yield, costs, and benefits. To justify the expenses involved in harvesting hay, a minimum yield of at least one-half ton per acre is typically needed. If the alfalfa field cannot produce this yield due to prolonged dry conditions, haymaking may not be a financially viable choice.
2. Grazing as an Alternative
Grazing dry, bloomed-out alfalfa might be a more cost-effective approach for some farmers. Grazing can be relatively inexpensive in terms of out-of-pocket costs, especially if portable electric fencing is already available, and there is no significant expenditure required for cattle transportation or water provision. Moreover, grazed alfalfa carries a relatively low risk of bloat, though responsible animal husbandry practices should be followed to ensure safe grazing.
3. The “Leave it Alone” Approach
If neither haymaking nor grazing is feasible or financially justified, leaving the drought-stunted alfalfa undisturbed may be the best course of action. Shredding or haying the alfalfa might stimulate regrowth, but if dry conditions persist, any new shoots could die off. Instead, it may be wiser to wait for sufficient rain to naturally promote regrowth. In most cases, the time and costs associated with shredding, clipping, or harvesting low-yielding hay may outweigh the benefits.
Managing drought-stunted alfalfa requires careful consideration of available options and their potential outcomes. Whether to cut, graze, or leave the alfalfa as is depends on factors such as yield expectations, costs, and the prevailing weather conditions. While each approach has its merits, farmers must select the option that aligns best with their specific circumstances and resources. As we navigate through challenging times, let us hope for much-needed rain to revive the vitality of our alfalfa crops and sustain our agricultural endeavors.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
1. Can I harvest drought-stunted alfalfa for hay even if the yield is low?
Harvesting drought-stunted alfalfa for hay can be done, but it’s essential to consider the potential yield and associated costs. Generally, a minimum yield of at least one-half ton per acre is necessary to justify the expenses involved in haymaking, such as fuel, labor, and equipment. If the alfalfa field is producing significantly below this threshold due to prolonged dry conditions, it may not be financially practical to harvest it for hay.
2. Is grazing dry, bloomed-out alfalfa safe for my livestock?
Grazing dry, bloomed-out alfalfa can be a viable option, especially if you already have portable electric fencing and minimal expenses for cattle transportation or water provision. Dry alfalfa carries a relatively low risk for bloat, but responsible animal husbandry practices should be followed to ensure safe grazing. Gradually introducing livestock to the grazing area and providing supplemental feed can help mitigate potential health risks associated with grazing alfalfa.
3. Will shredded or cut alfalfa regrow after receiving sufficient rain?
If drought-stunted alfalfa receives enough rain to support regrowth, it will likely start to grow again regardless of whether it was shredded or cut. While shredding or cutting the alfalfa may stimulate some initial regrowth, the decision to do so should be weighed against the associated costs and time involved. In many cases, alfalfa will naturally regrow following sufficient rain without the need for additional interventions.