Pioneer Experts Say Late Summer Alfalfa Management Key to Strong Spring Stands

Pioneer Experts Say Late Summer Alfalfa Management Key to Strong Spring Stands

Seedbed preparation and management crucial during development

Good seedbed preparation and late summer management are among the biggest factors that determine a successful, high-yielding alfalfa crop, say experts at Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business.

Alfalfa is a long-term investment for growers and, to maximize productivity, there are several steps to take before seeding in the fall to ensure good stand establishment the next spring.

"Once growers have alfalfa established, it is a great crop for a long-term rotation," says Dan Berning, Pioneer technology services manager. "But growers want to get it right. They won't have another chance on that field for a while."

To thrive, alfalfa seeds require good seed-to-soil contact. Because of their size, the seeds should not be planted very deep, since that may cause emergence challenges. To ensure holding moisture, growers should plant in firm soil.

"In the ideal seedbed, a footprint doesn't leave more than a half-inch depression," Berning says. "This is firmer than soil needed for planting larger seed crops, but growers need to recognize alfalfa seed is very small."

"A firm seedbed helps prevent the biggest mistake in alfalfa planting - planting too deep," says Gary Brinkman, Pioneer area agronomist.

Other good seedbed management practices revolve around weed control.

"Alfalfa is a delicate seedling," Berning says, "so potential weed competition needs to be eliminated or it will inhibit the establishment of a good stand."

New technologies are now available from Pioneer to curb weed problems. This includes three Pioneer® brand alfalfa varieties with the Genuity® Roundup Ready® (RR) gene, part of Pioneer's extensive alfalfa lineup. The Roundup Ready trait enables growers to control grass and broadleaf weeds with a single glyphosate herbicide application, resulting in a simplified, cost-effective weed management program while maintaining crop and feed safety. Spraying Roundup® on the seedling crop is recommended at the three- to four-trifoliate leaf stage, and will aid with stand establishment by controlling most seedling weeds.

Selecting the right planting time also is important to good alfalfa establishment. Optimum planting times depend greatly on the region.

"It is important to plant early enough to establish growth before fall dormancy," Berning says. "A rule of thumb is to plant no later than one month before the expected fall freeze, unless that won't provide adequate growth in your region."

Typically, growers should not harvest alfalfa before winter, but rather manage it. If growers cut their alfalfa crop in the fall, it depletes the root reserves of nutrients.

"When the stands get cut too late in the fall, typically growers will see more winter-kill resulting in a thinner spring stand," Brinkman says. "If growers decide to cut, they should leave at least 6 to 8 inches of stubble."

Before planting and during the beginning stages of alfalfa growth, growers should scout for potential insect infestations.

"Pioneer offers growers in all alfalfa-growing regions a number of varieties to meet their specific disease or insect challenges," Brinkman says. "Growers can choose from varieties with the Roundup Ready trait or conventional varieties including high-yielding, high-quality, nonlodging and winterhardy options."

Today's alfalfa varieties offer traits to defend the crop against yield-threatening diseases such as Aphanomyces Race 2 and pests like nematodes. Pioneer also offers leafhopper-resistant, lodging-resistant and western-adapted varieties.

When making purchasing decisions, growers also need to be aware of how much pure, live seed is in the bag. The bags can contain large amounts of coatings and other inert matter, adding additional pounds to the bag that are not actual seed.

"Coatings can be for fungicides, inoculants and other purposes," Berning says. "Pioneer alfalfa product bags typically contain about 9 percent coatings with some competitors' products as high as 35 percent of the bag. Those high numbers indicate why growers should calculate actual seed cost per bag based on the pure live seed in the bag."
For more information on Pioneer brand alfalfa varieties, contact your local Pioneer sales professional or visit www.pioneer.com/forages.

Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, is the world's leading developer and supplier of advanced plant genetics, providing high-quality seeds to farmers in more than 90 countries. Pioneer provides agronomic support and services to help increase farmer productivity and profitability and strives to develop sustainable agricultural systems for people everywhere. Science with Service Delivering SuccessTM.

DuPont is a science-based products and services company. Founded in 1802, DuPont puts science to work by creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere. Operating in more than 90 countries, DuPont offers a wide range of innovative products and services for markets including agriculture and food; building and construction; communications; and transportation.

07.20.2011