Alfalfa Forage Quality Changing, First Harvest to Happen Fairly Soon

The annual Extension First-Cut Alfalfa Quality Monitoring project is indicating that first crop alfalfa is maturing and will be ready to harvest for most dairy farms yet in May.  This project monitors alfalfa forage quality changes, allowing farms to make informed decisions about harvest timing.  The set of data collected on Thursday, May 19 from 12 fields across the five county region found that most fields are in the 220 to 240 Relative Forage Value points, and most dairy farms harvest when this value is between 180 and 200.  However, two fields were more mature and registered closer to the 200 mark.  Here are the specific results:

Location County RFV as of May 19
Lena Oconto 205
Lena West Oconto 197
Gillett Oconto 222
Cecil Shawano 225
Bowler 1 Shawano 224
Bowler 2 Shawano 214
Phlox Langlade 235
Polar North Langlade 245
Crivitz Marinette 220
Wausaukee Marinette 220
Wausaukee New Sdg Marinette 240

First crop is usually the most important harvest of the year, and farms use quality data to make sure that they harvest at the appropriate forage quality for their operation.  The only way to be sure about harvest timing is to monitor quality in your own fields by submitting actual forage samples, using the Predictive Estimated Alfalfa Quality (PEAQ) system, or by following the results of the area-wide monitoring project.

Scott Reuss, Crops/Soils Extension Educator, will gather quality data again on at least a weekly basis.  Producers can call the Scissors Clip Hotline 24 hours a day at 715-732-7510 to get the most current regional information.  Producers can also log on to the state site and look at data from all cooperators across the state, at https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/scissorsclip/or can e-mail to scott.reuss@wisc.edu

Normally, pure alfalfa fields will drop about four or five forage quality points per day.  Most weed species, along with forage grass species, have lower values than do alfalfa and clovers.  Thus, fields with high weed or grass content need to be cut sooner than those which are pure legume stands.

Each farm must match their harvest timing to their forage quality needs.  Farms must also account for harvest and storage quality losses of nearly 10%, meaning they must harvest at 200 to get 180 RFV feeding quality.  Some dairy farms want 185 or higher RFV point feed, while beef farms may wait to capture more yield and have 125 point hay/haylage.  It is a balancing act for dairy farms in this extremely high feed cost year, as fewer cuts means more tons of forage and less harvest cost.  However, more cutting events yields higher quality alfalfa and fewer purchased nutrients.

If you have questions about forage quality or other crop related concerns, please contact Scott Reuss, UW-Madison, Division of Extension, Crops/Soils Educator for Marinette, Oconto, Shawano, Langlade, and Lincoln Counties.

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