Monday, October 2, 2017

Now is the Time to Moo-ve Forward with Planting a New Alfalfa Field in the Valley

 Most growers have wrapped up the spring-to-summer alfalfa season by now.

But a few farmers are sticking it out and pushing for one more cutting this month, reports field scout Damien Jelen. These growers are determined to squeeze as much as they can from the crop to maximize their investment in time, water and chemicals.

New alfalfa fields should be planted in early fall.
It’s no surprise economics is a big driver.

Alfalfa, which can be cut for hay up to 11 times a year, ranks as the 10th most valuable crop in California and generates more than $280 million in annual income for growers.  It supports the state’s largest ag industry, the $6 billion dairy market.

Good quality alfalfa brings in a premium. You might say good hay makes cows happy. That’s why about 1 million acres of alfalfa is grown statewide, yielding more than seven tons a year or 9 percent of the nation’s alfalfa hay production.

Alfalfa supports the state's giant dairy industry.
At the same time, alfalfa is a good rotational crop because it adds nitrogen into the soil. As a perennial crop, it grows for several years after planting.

Of course, there comes a time for growers to plant a new stand.

Dan Putman, an alfalfa extension specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension in Davis, says early October is the best time for San Joaquin Valley growers to plant a new field. It takes 15 to 25 pounds of seed planted per acre.

Alfalfa plant roots go deep underneath the ground.
Putman says timing is everything. Planting in November runs the risk of encountering cold, wet weather. That’s not good for growth.

“It’s a slow growing seedling,” he says. It’s important for new alfalfa plants to establishdeep roots – usually five to six feet deep.

A deep root system allows alfalfa to withstand pest, weed and drought pressures. It also keeps the young alfalfa from being overwhelmed by winter weeds.

Planting a field even a couple of weeks too late can reduce yields by 1 to 1 ½ tons. Here’s what a1977-1978 field study in Yolo County and the Sacramento Valley found:

·         September 14 plantings yielded 17.2 tons per acre during the first two years
·         October 17 plantings yielded 16 tons per acre during the first two years
·         November 16 plantings yielded 14.5 tons per acre during the first two years

Putman advises growers to work with their pest control advisors to determine the best varieties to resist pest and plant disease pressures in their area. He also notes the deep root system helps alfalfa survive during dry years.

“It is a resilient crop,” he says. Even after growers stopped irrigating alfalfa during the drought, the crop was able to “come back another day to yield well.”

The Annual Cotton Tour remains popular as ever. The event provides a unique opportunity to get an inside look at cotton production – from the field to the gin. Set for Tuesday, October 24, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the cost is $40 a person, which covers bus transportation and lunch at the Cardella Winery in Mendota. For more information or to register go to the following link:


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