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​First look favorable for alfalfa, winter wheat

Ray Mueller
At the end of the first week of April, a new growth of alfalfa was emerging in a field at Wichman Farms northwest of Freedom in Outagamie County.

FREEDOM – When the Outagamie County Forage Council holds its annual early spring meeting, one of the main items of interest on the agenda is the report by area crop consultants and agronomists on the fate of alfalfa stands and winter wheat fields at the start of the new growing season.

That was the case again on April 6 for the meeting held at Wichman Farms in the central part of the county. To prepare for it, representatives of area crop consulting firms dug samples of both crops and stimulated their growth in warmer conditions for nine days before the meeting.

The first impressions were quite favorable. Both the alfalfa and winter wheat samples on display for the meeting looked quite healthy and were growing vigorously. An alfalfa field adjacent to the meeting room at Wichman Farms was showing good new growth that lagged the displayed samples by several days.

Consultant observations

In his observations for the meeting attendees, Todd Schaumberg of Tilth Agronomy noted that during the warm period in February of this year the soil temperatures in the area and most of Wisconsin did not top 34 degrees -- not warm enough to stimulate plant growth. In neighboring Iowa, however, alfalfa started growing as soil temperatures reached 40 degrees at that time, he reported.

When displayed at the Outagamie County Forage Council meeting, alfalfa plants were exhibiting vigorous new growth after being kept in warm quarters for the previous nine days.

While much of Wisconsin “seemed to dodge a bullet in February,” Schaumberg cautioned that a true test of alfalfa stand health for the new growing season couldn't be made until this week – after regrowth that began during the past warm weekend. Whether or not there is decay or degradation of the root systems of the plants will be the determining factor for the health of the new crop, he pointed out.

Plant physical damage

Paul Knutzen of Knutzen Crop Consulting was concerned about the alfalfa stem count per square foot in older stand fields where there had been significant wheel traffic. He hadn't detected any problem with the roots in the early spring but noticed that many plants had crown damage, thereby creating the possibility that the stem count per square foot would below the 55 that is considered the crucial number for obtaining an economically satisfying yield.

Knutzen recommended that growers keep an eye on the stem counts as their alfalfa greens up. That should prompt a decision on whether the stand is worth keeping or should be replaced by a different crop, he remarked.

Winter wheat preview

In a report on winter wheat, Kyle Much of Knutzen Crop Consulting noted that the crop were greening up at the expected pace and timetable. He encouraged growers to check for plant counts of a minimum of 12 to 15 per square foot to justify keeping the crop.

Winter wheat plants which were dug and placed in warm growing conditions nine days earlier by Kyle Much of Knutzen Crop Consulting were showing good growth when displayed at the Outagamie County Forage Council meeting.

Just because plants were brown coming out of the winter doesn't mean that they are dead, Much stated. Look instead for vibrant white roots emerging from the plant crowns as a good sign that the plants are alive, he suggested.

Following the well above average temperatures on the 2nd weekend of April should have provided answers on the plant health of winter wheat because that “shot of warmer weather” should have been enough to stimulate the greening of wheat plants that are alive, Much observed.