Rain Impacts on Hay

Ayman M. Mostafa

With the rain events we had during the last few weeks, I have received questions about rain impacts on alfalfa hay yield and quality. Alfalfa must be dried or cured for safe storage as hay, and generally we do not have problems reaching this dryness in Arizona. Normally, field and harvesting losses of hay are as high as 20 to 30% due to cutting and curing. Rain can increase these yield losses and reduce quality. The event of rain that occurs between the time forage is cut and baled extends curing time. Consequently, yield and quality are decreased, reducing the value of the crop as an animal feed and marketable commodity. Weather-induced losses can be caused by: 1) increased and prolonged plant respiration that reduces soluble carbohydrates and the overall energy content of forage, 2) leaching of soluble carbohydrates, protein, and certain minerals, 3) leaf shattering and loss, removing the highly digestible and high protein portion of the forage, 4) microbial activity that metabolizes soluble carbohydrates, reduces forage energy content, and possibly produces harmful mycotoxins, and 5) color bleaching.

In a Utah study, artificial rain of 0.8 inches resulted in estimated yield loss of 9.7%, losses of available carbohydrate by 18.8%, 10.2% reduce of crude protein, 19.8% of lipids, and 14.0% of soluble minerals. Hay quality was reduced more by rain damage than by advancement in maturity.

In a study in Michigan to examine the effects of rainfall on field cured alfalfa, dry matter (DM) losses ranged from 4-13% with rainfall intensity that was kept constant at 0.7-inch but spread over periods of 1 to 7 hours, with highest losses occurring when the rain was spread over a longer duration.

Carotene, the precursor for Vitamin A, is sensitive to prolonged field exposure. Vitamin A is the most common vitamin deficiency in beef cows and horses.

You can also see:

Fonnesbeck, P.V., M.M. Garcia De Hernandez, J.M.Kaykay and M.Y.Saiady (1986) Estimating yield and nutrient losses due to rainfall on field-drying alfalfa hay. Animal Feed Science and Technology, 16: 7-15.

Lindquist, K. (2017) How Rain Affects Hay Quality – Frequently Asked Questions. Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. https://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$Department/deptdocs.nsf/all/faq14011

Rankin, M. and D. Undersander (2000) Rain Damage to Forage During Hay and Silage Making. University of Wisconsin Extension. https://fyi.uwex.edu/forage/files/2014/01/Raindam.pdf

Rotz, C.A. (1995) Loss Models for Forage Harvest. Transactions of the ASAE. 38: 1621-1631.

Preemergence Herbicides in Alfalfa

Bill McCloskey

University of Arizona

With the cooler temperatures of fall and optimum planting times for alfalfa approaching, winter weeds will soon be germinating in established alfalfa fields. It is human nature to think that winter weeds germinate later in the year because that is when they are large and visible along roads and in fields. In reality, they germinate earlier than we often realize. Now is a good time to be thinking about preemergence herbicide options for established alfalfa fields. Some winter weeds such as common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) are toxic while others impart off-flavors to milk when fed to dairy cows.

Apply preemergence herbicides to alfalfa fields shortly after cutting and removal of the forage. This minimizes the amount of preemergence herbicide bound to leaf and stem surfaces and the loss of weed control this causes. Some preemergence herbicides such as Chateau, Velpar AlfaMax Gold, diuron, hexazinone and metribuzin have contact-burndown activity if mixed with an adjuvant such as a surfactant or a crop oil concentrate. To avoid alfalfa damage do not mix them with these types of adjuvants. Imazethapyr (Pursuit) has both preemergence and postemergence activity and is selective in alfalfa. Other preemergence herbicides such as norflurazon (Solicam), EPTC (Eptam), Prowl H2O, and trifluralin granules do not have significant foliar activity. Velpar AlfaMax Gold, diuron, hexazinone and metribuzin are mobile enough in soil that in warm conditions alfalfa can absorb enough herbicide into the roots with soil water to cause injury (see labels). Chateau, Prowl H2O and trifluralin granules have very limited mobility in soil, just enough to control weeds. Observe the pre-harvest intervals on herbicide labels to avoid illegal residues in the harvested forage. There will always be weeds that escape preemergence herbicide applications so you may need to spray a postemergence herbicide later in the fall. Be sure to consider potential crop rotations and plant-back intervals when using soil active herbicides.

Additional Reading:

Tickes, B. and M.J. Ottman. 2008. Alfalfa Weed Control in the Low Deserts of Arizona. https://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1266.pdf. Accessed September 26, 2017.

Alfalfa Stand Replacement

IMG_3545Michael J. Ottman
University of Arizona

The decision to replace alfalfa stands is based on stand establishment costs, hay price, and yield of the alfalfa stand in question and other factors.  As an example, replacing an alfalfa stand with yields 2 ton/acre less than a healthy stand will pay for itself in 3 years if the cost of alfalfa establishment is $900/acre, hay price is $150/acre, and harvesting costs are assigned on a per acre basis.  If harvesting costs are assigned on a per ton basis, then a 3 ton/acre rather than a 2 ton/acre stand decline is required in the scenario described above.  The economic benefit of replacing an alfalfa stand increases as the cost of establishment decreases, the hay price increases, and the yield reduction due to the poor stand increases.

Replace an alfalfa stand if plant density is less than 4-6 plants per square foot.  The plants or crowns  should be counted soon after cutting to be able to distinguish individual crowns.  Actually, the density of stems rather than plants is a better indicator of the adequacy of a stand because some plants may have few stems and not contribute much to yield.  The stems should be counted when about 6 to 10 inches tall.  An alfalfa stand should be replaced if the stem density is less than 40 stems per square foot where yield is 75% of maximum according to University of Wisconsin data.  Yield is maximized at 55 plants per square foot.    Stands may need replacement regardless of average plant or stem density if plants are not uniformly distributed or if many bare spots exist.  Weeds may become a problem in a thinning alfalfa stand and may be difficult to control.  Reduction in forage quality may occur in sparse stands due to thicker stems.

Alfalfa plants contain compounds that are toxic to germinating seedlings of alfalfa.  These compounds are in a class of chemicals called medicarpins.  The leaves and flowers contain higher concentrations of medicarpins than the stems and roots.  A newer alfalfa stand has less medicarpins than an older stand.  The injury to germinating alfalfa seedlings can range from slight stunting to death of the plant.  To avoid autotoxicity, delay seeding alfalfa into a field previously in alfalfa by at least 2 weeks after tillage or 3 weeks after herbicide-kill of the old stand.  Killing the alfalfa stand with an herbicide and then harvesting the crop may result in hay of poor quality.

Renovating an alfalfa stand involves some light form of tillage and seeding into the existing crop.  This practice is rarely successful.  The seeds may germinate and seedlings become established for a few weeks or months.  Eventually, however, the seedlings may succumb to autotoxicity or to competition from established plants.  Seedlings may become established in areas more than 8-16 inches away from other plants, outside of their zone of influence for autotoxic compounds and competition for light, nutrients, and water.  So, large areas at the tail end of the field that have been killed by scald (high temperature flooding injury) are often successfully renovated.

Additional reading

Hall, M.H., J.A. Jennings, and G.E. Shewmaker.  2004.  Alfalfa establishment guide.  https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/fg/pdfs/2/1/2004-0723-01-MG.  Accessed September 21, 2017.

Mueller, S.C, C.A. Frate, and M.C. Mathews.  2008.  Alfalfa stand establishment.  Pp. 39-58 in Irrigated alfalfa management for Mediterranean and desert zones, C.G. Summers and D.H. Putnam eds.  UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Oakland, CA.  Publication 3512.  http://alfalfa.ucdavis.edu/IrrigatedAlfalfa/pdfs/UCAlfalfa8290StandEstablish_free.pdf.  Accessed September 21, 2017

Tesar, M.B., and V.L. Marble.  1988.  Alfalfa establishment.  Pp. 303-332 in:  Alfalfa and alfalfa improvement, A.A. Hanson, D.K. Barnes, and R.R. Hill, Jr., eds.  American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI.  Publication 29.

Undersander, D., C. Grau, D. Cosgrove, J. Doll, and N. Martin.  2011.  Alfalfa stand assessment:  Is this stand good enough to keep?  https://fyi.uwex.edu/forage/alfalfa-stand-assessment-is-this-stand-good-enough-to-keep/.  Accessed September 21, 2017.