August 11, 2010
Alfalfa planting is drawing near in many parts of Kansas thanks to the rainfall.
According to Jim Shroyer, crop production specialist with Kansas State University Research and Extension, late summer and early fall are ideal times for planting alfalfa in Kansas when there has been plenty of rain. He said growers in northwest Kansas can plant as early as August 10 to 15, while those in southeast Kansas can wait until mid- to late-September.
"Producers just need to plant early enough to have three to five trifoliate leaves before the first frost," he said.
"If managed properly and if we have a good year in terms of weather, dryland alfalfa can produce four to six tons of forage per acre per year," said Shroyer. "Irrigated fields can produce 8 to 12 tons per acre per year."
Shroyer recommended testing the soil before planting. Alfalfa will grow best in firm, moist soil that is well-drained and has a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Lime, phosphorus or potassium should be added before planting. He also advised growers to till the seedbed and plant after a rain, since tilling after a rain will reduce soil moisture. Using a press wheel with a drill to firm soil over planted seed will increase seed-to-soil contact.
It also is important to check for herbicide carryover that could damage the new alfalfa crop, especially when planting alfalfa no-till into corn or grain sorghum stubble. "In areas where row crops were drought-stressed and removed for silage, that sets up a great seedbed for alfalfa," he said. "But it may still bring a risk of herbicide damage."
Shroyer recommended planting certified, inoculated seed, which will help alfalfa seedlings fix available soil nitrogen for optimum production. The variety should be pest resistant. "Resistance to phytophthora root rot, bacterial wilt, fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt, anthracnose, the pea aphid and the spotted alfalfa aphid is essential," he said.
"Use the right seeding rate," he added. "Plant 8 to 12 pounds of seed per acre on dryland in western Kansas, 12 to15 pounds per acre in irrigated medium- to fine-textured soils, 15 to 20 pounds per acre on irrigated sandy soils and 12 to 15 pounds per acre on dryland in central and eastern Kansas."
He also warned against planting too deeply. "Plant one-fourth to one- half-inch deep on medium- and fine-textured soils and three-fourths inch deep on sandy soils," he said. "Don´t plant deeper than 10 times the seed diameter."
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