Because of its high nutritional content and easy digestion, alfalfa is a staple crop for livestock farmers all over the world.
It’s critical to know the most effective alfalfa production if you’re planning to grow alfalfa. Several important factors can significantly impact the successful alfalfa fields.
In this post, I’ll dig into the specifics of alfalfa seed per acre, including the suggested seeding rates, seeding requirements, and management strategies for perfect alfalfa yield.
About Alfalfa Seeds
Alfalfa seeds are small, dark, and elongated (Medicago sativa). This legume crop is native to Asia and has been cultivated for over 2,000 years.
Due to its nitrogen-fixing properties, it is widely grown for animal feed and as a soil conditioner.
Alfalfa seeds are a key component in alfalfa cultivation as they are used to plant the crop and establish new stands.
These seeds are high in protein, fiber, and other nutrients, making them an important food source for livestock.
They are commonly used in producing hay, silage, and pellets and can also be fed to livestock in their raw form.
Alfalfa is also valued for improving soil health and fertility, making it a popular crop in sustainable agriculture.
What Is The Recommended Rate Of Alfalfa Seed Per Acre?
As standard, the plant density of alfalfa crops should be 15 pounds per acre. The rate fluctuates depending on planting conditions, including soil type, weather conditions, and growing purpose.
But the optimal level ranges between 15-25 pounds per acre.
Of course, farmers need to consider other side criteria like soil fertility, hydration availability, and weed assault.
A higher seeding rate within the advised range may make more sense in less fertile soil or challenging environments, providing thicker stands of alfalfa and efficient weed competition.
It’s crucial to balance the seeding rate to keep track of the plant spacing, establish a robust stand, and maximize the annual forage crop.
Careless plant density can lead to 2 common circumstances: over-seeding and under-seeding.
The former can lead to overcrowding and harsh competition among plants, while the latter may result in sparse stands and lower productivity.
According to research, a mortality rate of 45 percent would be expected with a 10-pound per acre seeding rate, and a 60-70% mortality rate can result from a seeding rate of 20 pounds per acre.
For a more accurate acre seeding rate, you can refer to additional local guidelines related to your situation. You can have the agricultural professionals or extension services consult if needed.
How To Grow Alfalfa
Alfalfa’s Life Cycle
Alfalfa can be sown either in autumn or spring. When I spring plantings in year 1, under ideal conditions, I could typically harvest the first cut after approximately 65 days.
The second and subsequent cuts can be ready every 7 weeks until late fall (October-November) of the year 1.
At this point, spring-sown alfalfa prepares itself for winter. Thus, it reduces in size and ceases growth until the following spring (year 2). Alfalfa seed producers can repeat the planting cycle like that of year 1.
The principal cultivation procedure is paused at the 4th harvest season for high-quality, pure alfalfa seeds.
Soil is one of the key elements that directly affect the seed yields. That’s why the selection of soil type must be a priority.
Alfalfa cultivation normally gets underway in the previous summer. The moist soil can object to the plant’s lush development, so well-drained soil with a pH of 6-8 is commonly suggested.
Several farmers choose a reliable and adequate pH of 6.5, supported by lime. They usually spread it by deep tillage at 3–4 tons per hectare.
Despite its remarkable role, lime can often be missed by amateur gardeners—lime functions as a soil conditioner which can increase the useful activity of nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium bacteria.
Additionally, some farmers deep plow just before seeding day and add around 2,200 pounds of manure per hectare (~ 2.47 acres or 10,000 square meters).
I suggest finding some soil test recommendations and maintaining soil testing once a year before using any fertilization or tillage techniques.
Alfalfa Variety Selection
Alfalfa comes in more than 200 different kinds, yet only 6 to 8 are picked for commercial purposes. The effectiveness of various alfalfa cultivars differs across various growing zones.
Therefore, random alfalfa seed selection can result in seeding failure.
Before making alfalfa seed selection decisions, identify your surrounding environmental traits and keep in mind your intended planting target.
There is a concern about whether to add nitrogen fertilizer to alfalfa seeding.
As mentioned above, alfalfa benefits from a sufficient nitrogen supply, with about 1100 pounds/hectare of nitrogen. Consequently, you can eliminate the nitrogen fertilizer from the process.
Phosphorus and manure application is preferred. Alfalfa plants do, however, frequently suffer from phosphorus deficits, as shown by undeveloped roots and blue-green leaves.
Farmers add phosphorus in the sowing process; or else they apply 350 lbs per hectare once a year (usually in late winter, in January or February).
I also take advantage of manure, and it can be used before planting and occasionally throughout the second and third years. Especially, every two to three cuts require higher manure content.
Although alfalfa is renowned for strong drought resistance, it still needs sufficient moisture levels to provide excellent yields over the 4-year course.
A general rule of thumb is that soil moisture should be kept above 50%.
Farmers use various irrigation techniques throughout the growth phase, including border flood irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, center pivot irrigation, linear irrigation, and artificial rain.
The irrigation is often stopped 3-10 days prior to harvest.
Unlike other crops, Alfalfa plants can grow well even when the water supply is high in saline or poor quality (recycled water from waste tanks).
Most alfalfa plants will die if irrigation is not provided after a 45-drought-day summer.
However, excessive water supply in one field area can increase disease risk and result in drainage below the root zone.
Alfalfa is vulnerable to serious weed invasion, especially weeds with thorns, despite its flexibility and capacity to produce consistently for years.
Due to their competition with alfalfa plants for water and nutrients, weeds significantly threaten alfalfa development and productivity.
Proper management is to connect with nearby farmers or agronomists to get the most recent details on the common weed species in your area.
From there, you can establish a weed management plan that includes both pre- and post-sowing strategies.
What Is The Alfalfa Crop Rotation?
A 4-year time frame is the most common for alfalfa seeding. Several farmers stop growing alfalfa after the fourth year because of a precipitous loss in output, which may drop by as much as 15% annually.
There is a process called autotoxicity. It is the plant’s production of toxins that prevents the establishment of new alfalfa plants within the same field.
Alfalfa is susceptible to it like many other plants.
As a result, after harvesting the fourth-year alfalfa crop, most farmers decide to deep-plow out the remaining alfalfa plants.
Crops like wheat, corn, or barley are good subsequent alternatives. Once the annual corn stalks, barley, or wheat crop is harvested, they reintroduce alfalfa seeds for the next four years of cultivation.
This practice of crop rotation does wonders for alfalfa and the cereals grown alike.
Crop rotation has benefits on several fronts. First, grains tend to form a weed-free environment for alfalfa farming. Planting corn after alfalfa produces 10% more yields than planting corn after corn.
This will have a beneficial effect on agricultural productivity in the future.
Farmers can reduce the impacts of autotoxicity, encourage weed management, and possibly increase the overall yield of both alfalfa and cereal crops sustainably by applying this rotational technique.
In conclusion, the rate of alfalfa seed per acre is a crucial factor in worthy cultivation.
Farmers can ensure optimal plant density and maximize yields by sowing around 15-25 pounds (7-11 kilograms) per acre.
Other key aspects, such as soil preparation, irrigation, nutrient management, and weed control, also contribute to long-term success.
By tracking the soil profile, applying proper watering frequency, and following expert guidance, farmers can cultivate a thriving and sustainable crop.