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Fluid Journal : Fluid Journal 1996-1998
1 Fluid Journal Fall 1996 While profitable alfalfa production is the objective of any grower, today's farmers must also be aware of how their production practices affect the environment---both short- and long- term. The level at which growers manage their fertilizers and fertility can influence the environment. Balancing nutrient needs with other management practices sets the stage for efficient alfalfa production. A partial listing of those practices that impact on nutrient-use efficiency includes: • liming • equipment operation • timeliness • tillage • rotation • varieties • water management • seed quality • planting date • pest control. All of these decisions on input use can be made in a way that protects and even enhances the environment while meeting the need for profitability. Additional help can be found by contacting your extension agent, local fertilizer dealer, or crop consultant. In this discussion we'll review some of the problems or symptoms that occur in alfalfa production, then describe proven management practices that growers have relied upon to correct FFF Review Management Key In Efficient, Profitable Alfalfa Production Nutrient needs and profitability must be balanced with environmental stewardship. Figure 1. Weak, thinning alfalfa stands. them. We'll also cite an example of how proper use of inputs can optimize profits. Weak, thinning stands Thick, vigorous alfalfa stands are essential to obtain high yields and quality alfalfa. Research has shown that potassium (K) is the most important nutrient in maintaining productive alfalfa stands. Figure 1 shows how an alfalfa stand deprived of adequate potash becomes thin. Under low K conditions, alfalfa plants lose vigor and are unable to compete with weeds and grasses. Frequent clipping schedules demanded by maximum economic yield (MEY) producers cannot be met. Consequently, plants die and the stand remaining is weak and unprofitable. Other conditions contributing to thin alfalfa stands include: • soil acidity • low soil phosphorus levels • poorly adapted varieties • insects • diseases • improper cutting schedules. Alfalfa stands that start to thin and are slow to regrow after clipping can cut farmers' profits by: • lowering hay yields • producing less total digestible nutrient (TDN) • requiring outlays to purchase feed • necessitating expenditures to reestablish stands. The antidote is an adequate K program that helps alfalfa build food storage levels in roots and then helps translocate these reserves when the plant needs them for regrowth. Ample food reserves are essential for faster regrowth after harvest to meet the demands of frequent cuttings. Adequate food reserves in the roots are also an important factor in protecting the plant against winter kill. As you plan your alfalfa fertilizer program, be sure that K is not a limiting factor. A good rule of thumb on soils requiring K is to use 50 to 60 lbs of K2O for every ton of alfalfa hay you expect to harvest. The rewards are a stronger, more vigorous, longer-lived stand with high yield and good quality potential. Chlorosis This typical K deficiency symptom of alfalfa is easily recognized. It consists
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