Alfalfa outlook strong in Wisconsin

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


Going into 2016, what's the alfalfa outlook?

Mike Rankin, former UW-Extension crops and soils agent in Fond du Lac County and current editor of Hay and Forage Grower magazine, spoke with members of the Fond du Lac Forage Council recently during their annual meeting in Fond du Lac.

He reviewed the alfalfa production from the 2015 season and said there appears to be abundant supplies of mature, low-quality forage in many parts of the country.

'We went into 2015 with more hay in stock across the U.S. than there has been since 2005,' he said. 'The projection is for forage production to be up across the U.S. this year.'

Looking at weather conditions, Rankin said California is down considerably in production because of the drought. They are feeding 8 pounds per cow per day, whereas back in 2009, they fed 10 pounds a day or more.

'They also continually lose more acres to almond production,' he said.

Regarding the availability of seed, Rankin said alfalfa seed looks to be in good shape for the 2016 growing season, but there may be issues for those who wait to order the elite varieties that are in high demand.

Production of seed appears to be good, he added, but supplies could change if demand for a particular variety increases.

Wisconsin alfalfa project

Forage growers also heard updates on the Wisconsin Alfalfa Yield and Persistence Project from Tina Kohlman, dairy and livestock agent, Fond du Lac County UW-Extension.

Kohlman said the objective of the study is to verify the yield and quality of alfalfa harvested from fields over the life of the stand and quantify decreases in stand productivity of alfalfa fields as they age.

Four Fond du Lac County farms were a part of that study, monitoring fields that were seeded in 2013. In all the fields, it covered 102 acres with an average seeding rate of 17.3 pounds. The study looked at yield and also quality.

'We're rich in cow numbers but land poor,' she said, 'so the more milk you can get per acre, the more beneficial it can be.'

Of the four Fond du Lac County farms in the study, one farm cut earlier than the rest and then got a fifth cutting. All four farms had four cuttings before Sept. 1.

In the Wisconsin study, the average yield with a five-cut harvest system was 0.5 ton, and in Fond du Lac County, the average was 0.7 ton.

Kohlman said they are looking for cooperators to work with the study, noting that no special management practices are required.

The Wisconsin Alfalfa Yield and Persistence Program is designed to provide forage growers and agricultural professionals a unique look at what is happening at the farm level. As more fields are entered and years pass, the reliability of information will increase. So far, nine years of data have been collected.