Establishment is the most important success in the longevity of an alfalfa stand. Selecting the correct variety, preparing the seedbed and seeding at the correct rates will help you have a successful establishment.
One of the most important starting points is to select the most appropriate variety of forage to seed. Each variety has its own characteristics, helping you decide which variety to select. Ask yourself the following questions to narrow the search:
• What is the intended use – silage vs. hay
• What is the area of adaptation – wet or dry piece of land
• What is the productivity potential – tones per acre
• What are the soil conditions – poor soil vs. good soil
• What is the resistance to pests
• What is the resistance to winter kill
Studies have proven that the best time to seed forages is the spring. Seeding in the spring takes advantage of adequate soil moisture conditions and avoids hot summer temperatures. Manitoba summers can be hot and therefore “bake” the seed . Some important points to remember when preparing a good seedbed:
• Proper crop rotation prior to seeding – ensure that the field has been rotated out of forage, which will break the disease cycle, depending on the previous forages, up to three years are required to reduce the fungus that cause crown and root rots
• Seed into a clean field, as it can be difficult to control weeds in a forage crop, especially if a blend of grasses and legumes are seeded
• Test the soil to ensure sufficient fertility is available for forage establishment and fertilize accordingly
• A firm seedbed is essential for grass and legume establishment. A well-packed seedbed will permit a shallow, precise seeding depth and allow the seed to be placed in close contact with moist soil – Packed firm enough so that the tracks from a person walking across the seedbed are barely visible
Most forages should be seeded at a depth of 0.5 inches (12 mm). Placing forage seed deeper than one inch (25 mm) severely reduces emergence of the crop. Check with your seed supplier as to the seeding rate.
The establishment costs for a new alfalfa stand are high compared to other crops, so ensuring that you have done everything you can to make it successful, will assist in your crop being profitable.