Forage producers have a variety of expectations for alfalfa stand life, and most say a stand should produce for four to six years or more. However, growers also recognize that some fields become less productive after just a few years.
Whether you are growing alfalfa as a high-protein forage source for dairy animals or harvesting alfalfa for commercial hay sales, profitability depends on keeping your alfalfa yields high. Rotation choices may differ on every operation, but similar questions must be answered to make an intelligent rotation decision.
Common factors to consider when deciding whether to rotate alfalfa include:
- Alfalfa plant and stem count/yield potential
- Plant health and vigor
- On-farm inventory
- Forage-quality needs
- Harvest-schedule intensity
- Weed-pressure severity
- Chronic wheel traffic damage
- Degree of soil compaction
- Field fertility status
- Irrigation or salinity concerns
Rotation of alfalfa into another crop has a number of advantages, no matter when it is done. These benefits include the following:
- Availability of nitrogen (N) for subsequent grain crops increases from the N-producing nodules found on alfalfa roots.
- Total farm forage production is increased when rotating from alfalfa to corn for silage or high-moisture grain on a more frequent basis.
- Rotation helps disrupt the life cycles of pests, such as corn rootworm and weeds, protecting against crop-yield losses while reducing crop-protection-input expenses.
- Corn yields are typically 10 to 15 percent higher following alfalfa than corn following corn.
- Alfalfa rotation can be used as a tool to help minimize the effects of excess N use on water quality.
Learn more at the Silage Zone®.