By Bruce Anderson
Rain has delayed most folks from cutting alfalfa. If you haven’t taken the first cutting yet, you may want to consider changing how you cut this crop.
Even if it is not blooming heavily, you might be surprised to find that it already has started to grow your next cutting.
Walk into your alfalfa field before cutting and look closely at the base or crown of the plants. Do you see short, new shoots starting to grow? If so, these new shoots are the new plants that your alfalfa hopes to turn into your second cutting.
How tall are these new shoots? Are many of them a couple inches taller than your usual cutting height? If you cut these new shoots off – along with the first growth – your alfalfa plants will have to start a whole new set of shoots for regrowth. This could cause a delay in second cutting regrowth by as much as one week.
To avoid this, raise your cutting height just a couple inches so you don't clip off most of these new, second-growth shoots. This is especially important for growers using disk mowers because they tend to cut very low. Your regrowth then will have a head start toward your next cutting. And since the stubble you leave behind has quite low feed value, the yield you temporarily sacrifice is mostly just filler.
Normally I suggest cutting alfalfa as short as possible because that maximizes yield and it doesn’t affect rate of regrowth. But a late cutting that already has new shoots growing is different.