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Agricultural News

OSU's Alex Rocatelli Talks Maintaining a Good Alfalfa Crop in Dry Conditions

Wed, 27 Jul 2022 11:10:32 CDT

OSU's Alex Rocatelli Talks Maintaining a Good Alfalfa Crop in Dry Conditions With the drought forcing producers to take any hay they can get, alfalfa has become an important forage because of its ability to withstand harsh conditions. Farm Director, KC Sheperd, had the chance to visit with Extension specialist in forage systems at Oklahoma State University, Alex Rocatelli about maintaining a good alfalfa crop in drought conditions.

Some producers might be on the second or third cutting of alfalfa, Rocatelli said, depending on where they are located and how much rain they have received in the last few weeks.

“Alfalfa is well known to be a drought-tolerant plant that can thrive in semi-arid conditions,” Rocatelli said.

Alfalfa actually uses a lot of water, Rocatelli said, so when alfalfa is growing after it has been cut, it will grow around one-tenth of an inch per day.

“One inch of rainfall is good for no more than five days to one week of alfalfa growth,” Rocatelli said.

Alfalfa is able to produce more with less moisture, Rocatelli said, because it develops deep roots that can grow deeper than 16 feet within the second and third year of growth.

An example Rocatelli mentioned of what can happen if the alfalfa crop is not provided enough moisture, is in Stillwater, Okla. where he said after the crop there was cut a second time, the plant went into dormancy.

Dormancy triggered by drought caused alfalfa plants to curve their leaves and their growth is stunted.

“What alfalfa will do in a situation like that is produce shorter stems and smaller leaves,” Rocatelli said. “What the plants are going to try to do is to stay still waiting for the rainfall.”

With this drought, Rocatelli said grasshoppers and blister beetles have been a noticeable problem in alfalfa crops. It is good to watch the alfalfa crop, he added, but cut it anyways if it is still growing rapidly.

If an alfalfa crop becomes dormant after being cut because of the drought, and there are only six inches or less of growth, Rocatelli recommends not cutting it again until it can get some moisture and improve its condition.

In harsh conditions, Rocatelli said alfalfa will produce flowers and seeds as a survival method. Because of this, when it finally does rain, a crop that may have not faired so well may have a chance for new growth.

“Start to watch your alfalfa and make sure insects are not attacking new growth,” Rocatelli said. “Scouting the field all the time is important and when you achieve a threshold, go there and spray or do the correct control management for any pests or disease.”

Some producers may find themselves in a situation where they need to give their alfalfa crop more time to grow, but they have a herd that needs to be fed. In this scenario, Rocatelli said the herd can graze the alfalfa, but not below six inches if the producer wants to avoid losing their stand.

“If we don’t have water, it doesn’t matter much what we do,” Rocatelli said. “Water is the most important thing.”

Click the LISTEN BAR below to hear more from Alex Rocatelli talk about managing a good alfalfa crop.



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