Forage Quality Data

Alfalfa Forage Quality Changing Fast, First Harvest to Happen Soon

The annual Marinette and Oconto County UW-Extension First-Cut Alfalfa Quality Monitoring project is indicating that first crop alfalfa is ready to harvest for most dairy farms, but some farms may want to wait another week or so.  This project monitors alfalfa forage quality changes, allowing farms to make informed decisions about harvest timing.  The set of data collected on Thursday, May 30 from 11 fields across the two county area indicated that most dairy farms will be harvesting first crop alfalfa this week.  Fields ranged from 188 to 214 in Relative Forage Quality points, and most dairy farms harvest when this value is between 170 and 200.

First crop is usually the most important harvest of the year, and farms use quality data to make sure that they harvest at the appropriate forage quality for their operation.  The only way to be sure about harvest timing is to monitor quality in your own fields by using the Predictive Estimated Alfalfa Quality (PEAQ) system, or by following the results of the area-wide monitoring project.

Scott Reuss, Crops/Soils UW-Extension Agent, will gather quality data again on June 3/4 and possibly another abbreviated set a week later.  As mentioned, the first set of data indicated that most fields are essentially ready, if field moisture conditions are appropriate, to be harvested and achieve dairy-quality forage of 150 to 180.

Producers can call the Scissors Clip Hotline 24 hours a day at 715-732-7510 or toll-free at 1-877-884-4408 to get the most current local information.  Producers can also log on to the state site and look at data from all cooperators across the state, at https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/scissorsclip/ or can e-mail to sreuss@marinettecounty.com

Normally, pure alfalfa fields will drop about four or five  Relative Feed Quality (RFQ) points per day.  Most weed species, along with forage grass species, have lower RFQ values than do alfalfa and clovers.  Thus, fields with high weed or grass content need to be cut sooner than those which are pure legume stands.

Each farm must match their harvest timing to their forage quality needs.  Farms must also account for harvest and storage quality losses of nearly 10%, meaning they must harvest at 200 to get 180 RFQ feeding quality.  Some dairy farms want 185 RFQ point feed, while beef farms may wait to capture more yield and have 125 RFQ point hay/haylage.  It is a balancing act for dairy farms in this extremely tight margin year, as fewer cuts means more tons of forage and less harvest cost.  However, more cutting events yields higher quality alfalfa and fewer purchased nutrients.

If you have questions about forage quality or other agricultural or horticultural concerns, please contact Scott Reuss, UW-Extension Crops/Soils Agent, via any of the above means.