Photo: 114.jpg) Alfalfa yields vary from year to year but the last two years have been more unusual than most.
FOND DU LAC
Profitable forage production depends on high yields. Land, machinery, and most other operating costs stay the same whether harvesting three tons per acre or six tons per acre.
Since 2007, UW-Extension agents from around the state, with financial help from Midwest Forage Association, have been monitoring alfalfa yields and persistence. The goal was to verify the yield and quality of alfalfa harvested from fields on Wisconsin farms over the life of the stand, beginning with the first production year after seeding.
All of the monitored fields were seeded in 2006-12. Forty of them were spring seeded and nine were late summer-seeded. Seeding rates varied but 15-17 pounds was the most common.
Mike Rankin, Fond du Lac County UW-Extension crops and soils agent, said, "Almost always we have the highest digestible fiber in our first cuttings. This year first cut was lowest (in digestibility) of all the cuttings. I've never had a year like that."
Rankin admits digestibility is influenced by cutting late, and it was wet and cool this year so first cutting was delayed, but he says it was also cool and that usually translates into better digestibility.
Rankin said, "We had another abnormal year — two of them back to back."
Despite the abnormalities of this year's growing season, it is clear that the second and third production years are good and the fourth year, production starts to go down. This year the production on fourth-year fields dropped twenty-five percent.
He said a number of records were set in 2013:
· latest average first, second, third and fourth cutting dates;
· lowest average total season dry matter percent for harvest forage;
· lowest average total season first and fourth cut dry matter yield;
· highest average total season, first, third and fourth cut crude protein percent;
· highest first cut NDF; and
· lowest first-cut NDFD, RQF and milk per ton.
Rankin made his presentation at the annual Fond du Lac County Forage Day and Forage Council Annual meeting. Several members of the Fond du Lac group participated in the state-wide study.
The organization is active in the annual alfalfa scissors-cutting program in May and June and hosted a joint summer field day at the Abel Dairy in Eden in conjunction with the Dodge County Forage Council. In August and September they provided corn silage moisture testing, processing 137 samples. Members also receive a "haymaker" electronic newsletter.
Demonstration and research projects were conducted on member farms including the UW Corn Silage Hybrid Performance Trial on the Ed Montsma farm at Lamartine; alfalfa fungicide trial at Pickart Dairy, Malone.
Jeff Pickart, Malone is president of the group. Dan Liner, Van Dyne is vice president and Mike Yahr, a Campbellsport nutritionist, is treasurer. Rankin serves as secretary.
The group honored Randy Julka, Rosendale, whose six year term on the board is expiring.