Tips and tricks for raising alfalfa
With high protein prices, many people are thinking about growing alfalfa, some for the first time ever. While alfalfa can be very profitable, there are some common mistakes that can take you from profitability to loss quickly. Following are some of the most common mistakes I see new alfalfa growers make. If you can avoid these mistakes, you have a good chance to be on the profit side of the ledger rather than in the hole.
Common Mistake Number 1: Site selection
Alfalfa does not do well on hilly ground, rocky ground, shallow soils, eroded soils, etc. Ride along the highway and look at the fields where alfalfa is thriving; it is almost always on a level, bottomland site that is free of potholes. If you don't have soil like this, don't plant alfalfa. If you decide to plant it anyway, don't expect much out of it.
Common Mistake Number 2: Acidic, infertile soils
Have soil test results in hand well before planting alfalfa. Make sure the soil pH is okay. This means a pH above 6.0 and, for a beginning stand, above 6.5. Lime is expensive. If you have an acidic soil and can't afford to lime, don't plant alfalfa. Alfalfa requires high amounts of P and K, both for crop growth and for replacement of what is removed in the hay. If you can't afford to fertilize a lot, don't plant alfalfa.
Common Mistake Number 3: Poor seedbed preparation and planting technique
Alfalfa requires a good seedbed. It can be planted no-till by an experienced producer, but probably not by someone not well acquainted with no-till. If you fall into the latter category, prepare a good seedbed that is firm, smooth and free of large clods. This will require several diskings, followed by a harrow or cultipacker. A good alfalfa seedbed is one that makes you want to bring friends to the field and say, "I did that." If your seedbed is not that good, don't plant alfalfa.
Use a drill to plant. Do not broadcast seed and till it in. If you can't use a drill, don't plant alfalfa.
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