Here's a rundown of reports on hay-stand conditions following the Easter weekend cold snap:

  • Garry Lacefield, University of Kentucky forage specialist, says he's amazed at the amount of variation in damage that occurred after seven weeks of unusually warm temperatures and rapid forage growth were followed by four days of record-setting low temps. Little damage is evident on tall fescue, orchardgrass, Kentucky bluegrass and timothy, with only leaf tip burning in most cases, he reports. Some ryegrass damage was seen, but a very high percentage of alfalfa's terminal buds were killed by April 8's extreme low temps. He's optimistic about future growth because crowns and crown buds are still alive.

    "We're very encouraged about new alfalfa and clover seedings," he states. "Generally, these plants are tolerant of colder temperatures. Nebraska workers found that seedlings of alfalfa no older than the first-trifoliate growth stage could tolerate temperatures in the low 20s. While we have found a few dying/dead young seedlings, the number is much less than expected."

    Lacefield says he's seen new seedlings emerge the past few days. He advises hay growers to continue to monitor new stands. Information on evaluating new stands, plus tips on managing old and new growth after a freeze, are available at: www.uky.edu/Ag/Forage/Freeze%20Damage.htm.

  • Ohio hay growers aren't likely to see permanent freeze damage to established, healthy alfalfa. "Back in 1992 we had similar conditions of alfalfa breaking dormancy early in March, followed by cold temperatures that killed the shoots back to the crown," says Mark Sulc, Ohio State University Extension forage specialist. "Alfalfa re-initiated growth that year, and first-cutting yields were near-normal, although the first harvest was delayed 7-15 days." Such a delay may mean three rather than four cuttings for Ohio growers this year. Yet overall yields could still be near normal, especially if weather conditions favor good alfalfa growth the rest of the season.

    Freeze injury to alfalfa varied significantly across Ohio. In the west-central part of the state, alfalfa sustained considerable injury and virtually no green tissue can be found on plants. In the northeast, alfalfa is recovering nicely, with only stem tips showing frost injury. Apparently, dormancy broke later there, so plants were less susceptible.

    Red clover suffered less freeze injury than alfalfa while some perennial ryegrass varieties were injured significantly in west-central Ohio. Orchardgrass showed slight injury to the leaf tips. Most annual ryegrass varieties were completely killed by cold weather in February.

    Sulc expects only negligible yield loss on mixed grass-alfalfa stands, but the grass will be ready to cut much sooner than the recovering alfalfa. Should grass-alfalfa mixtures be clipped to slow grass growth? "By the time one could get on the field to clip them, some young alfalfa shoots may be growing, especially those deep in the canopy that survived the frost," he notes. "Cutting could remove those stems and potentially do more harm than good to the alfalfa recovery in the stand."

    Last year's late August to September alfalfa plantings may have suffered more frost injury than late July to early August plantings. Sulc urges growers to check plant roots to assess whether young plants have died. Weak stands, especially those under waterlogging stress, may have a more difficult recovery this spring and yield levels will be lower than normal, he notes.

  • In Illinois, alfalfa ranged from less than 6 in. high in the north to 20 in. or more in the south at the time of the freeze. If new leaves and shoots appear in the next few weeks, regrowth should be okay, even though it might be slow, according to University of Illinois experts.
  • Southeastern South Dakota hay producers received the brunt of the state's cold temperatures, particularly in Yankton, Turner and Bon Homme counties, according to Peter Jeranyama, South Dakota State University extension forage specialist. "The alfalfa was advanced, had broken dormancy, and had more than 3 in. of growth in these areas," he says. He's not expecting yields to be significantly set back as a result of the cold weather, but advises growers to dig up plants and evaluate root health.
  • Meanwhile, the May 11 North Central Kansas Alfalfa Field Day was canceled due to recent cold-weather damage. "The hay was damaged so much and has been slow to come back," says Roger Barrett, field day host. "In this area, we've lost the entire first cutting. Our first cutting usually comes around May 10; this year we won't be able to cut until after June 1. That's a pretty substantial economic loss."

    Barrett, a crop consultant for Farmway Co-op, Inc., Beloit, says the freeze will cost producers $200-250/acre. He scouts hay fields covering more than 15,000 acres and says the damage extends from north-central Kansas all the way to Oklahoma City.

-- Hay & Forage Grower magazine