A panel discussion on growing alfalfa brought together three major producers. Glen Obermann, of rural Monett, Nolan Kleiboeker, of rural Pierce City, and Clyde Jones, of Marionville.
Known as a highly nutritious forage, alfalfa is "the queen of all forages," Obermann said. He grows alfalfa on about 90 acres of his farm. Alfalfa grows on 200 acres of Jones' 600-acre farm. About 90 acres have a mix of alfalfa and orchardgrass. Kleiboeker has gone from 100 acres of alfalfa and orchardgrass down to 20 acres in 2007, a supply he has increased to feed his cow/calf operation.
Kleiboeker said unlike fescue, which only needs attention in the spring, alfalfa requires year-long management, producing up to five cuttings. Jones echoed Obermann's comment on spraying, saying he lives with his sprayer from late March through the early cuttings. Jones wanted to especially limit the weevils, and cannot sell his crop to the horse market if he encounters blister beetles.
A key to producing a successful alfalfa crop lies in baling. Horse producers who rely on alfalfa buy small square bales, requiring special preparation.
Obermann, who said bales of unraked alfalfa is "the worse possible hay," described his harvesting strategy. In good weather, Obermann will cut his alfalfa at 10 a.m. on Monday. On Friday he will rake it in the morning, then wait 12 hours for the right moisture level and bale with his cumulator.
Jones said he will begin baling around 7:30 or 8:30 p.m., before the moisture gets excessive, then bale quickly. Kleiboeker said a mix of alfalfa and orchardgrass is a little more tolerant of moisture than straight alfalfa.
All three panelists wrap some of their cuttings and bale those wet. Obermann cautioned the process wraps about 50 percent moisture, and the nutrition is in the solid matter. Kleiboeker and Jones said those who keep their alfalfa for dairy herds may wrap every cutting.
The panelists recommended aggressive soil testing and fertilizing. Kleiboeker said a stand of alfalfa will constantly require lime, not only at cutting time. An unsupported stand of alfalfa will only last five years, while properly supported can keep a stand growing years longer.
Ten steps toward successful alfalfa establishment in the Ozarks by Tim Schnakenberg, University Extension agronomy specialist are included below:
1. Decide if you are up to the challenge.
2. Select a site suitable for alfalfa.
3. Apply fertilizer and lime based on soil test recommendations.
4. Seed alfalfa at optimum times of the year.
5. Choose the right seeding method, rate and seed depth for your conditions.
6. Kill the existing vegetation prior to no-telling seed.
7. Use an insecticide for fall alfalfa no-till establishment.
8. Use a proven bacteria-resistant seed.
9. Control early weed infestations.
10. Make sure you have an acceptable stand, with 25 to 30 seedlings per square foot for the first season.