OSU's Alex Rocateli Says Alfalfa Planting Season is Upon UsWed, 01 Sep 2021 13:43:23 CDT
Although it may not feel like fall in Oklahoma, fall is just around the corner. That means it is the perfect time to plant Alfalfa. KC Sheperd talks with Alex Rocateli, forage and pasture management specialist at Oklahoma State University, about everything producers need to know this season.
“The best time to plant alfalfa in Oklahoma is from mid-August to mid-September,” Rocateli said. “We are exactly on time to plant.”
First and foremost, Rocateli emphasized the importance of planning ahead - he even suggested planning as early as a year in advance for best results. Fast forward to just before planting, Rocateli said choosing a field is the first step in producing a successful alfalfa crop.
“Alfalfa is a very funny plant,” Rocateli said. “It produces some substances that inhibit new alfalfa seeds.”
He is talking about alfalfa’s autotoxicity. Mature alfalfa plants produce those toxic substances to defend against pests and disease. Eventually, the substances escape into the soil, allowing the existing plant to grow unimpeded, according to Rocateli. When a field is turned over, those substances remain active for months, even years after harvesting, he added.
“If you have had alfalfa in your field in the past two years and you are trying to plant again, you had better check the autotoxicity in that field,” Rocateli said. “Otherwise, you are going to seed your alfalfa and it’s not going to come up.”
Soil analysis is the second task on Rocateli’s alfalfa-planting to-do list. Aside from needing to know Phosphorus and Potassium levels, alfalfa also requires a soil PH between 6.3 to 6.8, according to Rocateli. If soil samples show your soil PH is not suitable for growing alfalfa, he said you need to wait at least six months to a year before revisiting that field in hopes of planting alfalfa.
Alfalfa’s fussiness doesn’t stop there. According to Rocateli, those tiny alfalfa seeds like to be planted in soil in which the top six inches has been disced and harrowed. Finally, after the soil has settled, alfalfa seeds should be placed on top of the firm seedbed, no deeper than the top 3/8 of an inch, Rocateli said.
“To make sure that your seedbeds are good, take a step and look at the print of your boot in the soil,” Rocateli said. “Don’t let that (boot) print go deeper than 3/8 of an inch.”
After you spend the time creating the perfect environment for your alfalfa crop, you are at the mercy of mother nature.
“It’s essential that rainfall comes to make the top layer of the soil wet (for germination),” Rocateli said.
It can be beneficial for producers to plant alfalfa earlier than later, to ensure they catch some late-summer rain.
After all this, who even wants to mess with alfalfa? Well, Rocatlei said he sees producers who want high quality fall forage for their cattle or folks in the hay business planting alfalfa in Oklahoma.
Rocateli said there are many resources on the Oklahoma State University website. Here are a few:
Click or tap here for a guide on Alfalfa Autotoxicity.
Click or tap here for the Alfalfa Stand Establishment Fact Sheet.
Click or tap here for the Agronomic Calendar for Oklahoma Alfalfa Growers.
Click on the LISTEN BAR below to hear KC’s conversation with Alex Rocateli, where they discuss max alfalfa yields in Oklahoma, what alfalfa varieties to choose and much more.
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