Questions on alfalfa maturity and planting forage grasses

Questions on alfalfa maturity and planting forage grasses


By Jim Morrison

U of I Extension

Forage producers grow seed that generates hay or grasses for the feed or grazing of field stock.

The American Forage and Grassland meeting last summer focused on many topics important to forage producers. Let’s take a look at two commonly asked forage questions and how they are answered by current research.

First, “Do higher quality alfalfa varieties mature slower?” Alfalfa producers know that less mature alfalfa is of higher quality than more mature alfalfa. A Pennsylvania State University study was conducted to determine if alfalfa varieties identified as being high quality actually develop slower and are, consequently, less mature relative to other varieties at harvest.

Two “high quality” and two “non-high quality” check varieties were spring seeded in 1996 and monitored for three consecutive years for morphological development and forage quality. There were no interactions between growth period or sampling times and alfalfa varieties for either alfalfa maturity or forage quality.

As sampling was delayed within each growth period, morphological development increased and quality decreased for all varieties. Averaged over all growth periods and sampling times, crude protein and digestibility were 1.4 and 1.3% higher, respectively, for the “high quality” varieties than the check varieties.

The researchers concluded from this study that the difference in quality between the “high quality” varieties and traditional varieties is not due to differences in morphological 2000 development but rather inherent differences in quality.

Our second question is: “Can forage grasses be seeded successfully in the fall in northern areas and is there an optimum seeding window?

This is asked many times in the late summer by producers wanting improve the density and yield of existing grass pastures.

University of Wisconsin researchers seeded orchardgrass, smooth bromegrass, timothy, reed carnarygrass, perennial ryegrass, and creeping foxtail or tall fescue every 2 ½ weeks to 3 ½ weeks between late July and mid-November at three sites (one being Lancaster in southern Wisconsin) in 1995, 1996, and 1997.

Seedings made after mid- or late-September usually produce no visible plants in the fall but still can produce spring growth, although they may be more subject to failure especially in southern Wisconsin. The earliest seedings usually produced the highest plant populations and the highest yields in the first year after seeding. Species yield varied with year, site, and seeding date, but smooth bromegrass, timothy, and perennial ryegrass were often high. In later seeding dates, reed carnarygrass and creeping foxtail were usually low.

The researchers concluded from this study that under favorable moisture conditions, forage grasses seeded from late July to mid- or late-September should establish well in northern states like Wisconsin.

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