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A Couple of Alfalfa Inter-Seeding Observations

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
May 6, 2015

Source:  Dan Martens, Extension Educator
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties


A Couple of Alfalfa Inter-Seeding Observations
By Dan Martens, University of Minnesota Extension

FOLEY, Minn. (04/30/15) — Many decisions have already been made regarding strategies for dealing with alfalfa winter injury. For fields that are thin, but with enough alfalfa to try to salvage one more year with the field, one strategy is to inter-seed Italian Ryegrass or another productive grass that has potential to add to yield by filling in some of open space in alfalfa fields. I wrote about some inter-seeding options last week. Here are some additional items to consider in handling some of these field situations.

Extension colleagues wrote an article in 2013 outlining strategies for dealing with widespread alfalfa loss in southeast Minnesota. One key task is to evaluate short term feed needs with long term feeding strategies. This article can be found by doing an Internet search for “Minnesota Extension Dairy Emergency Forage Decisions to be Made.” Some good information about alfalfa and other planting season issues can be found by doing an Internet search for “Minnesota Extension Crop News.” You’re welcome to call the county Extension office for any of this information.

Harvesting Italian Ryegrass. I talked with Rick Tamm from Byron Seeds who has had some experience with Italian Ryegrass, as well as other grasses. He shared that Italian Ryegrass has worked well for inter-seeding in thinned alfalfa stands. It can add yield to this year’s hay crop. It does not survive the winter. Rick offers the caution that because Italian Ryegrass has a high sugar content; it does not blow into upright silos very well. Plugged silo pipes are not fun, especially with a lush somewhat sticky grass. You might even notice a little drag in blowing to the back of a silage box. Bunkers, piles, bags and baleage are better options. (A mix that is largely alfalfa might do a little better - watch.)

Italian Ryegrass (IRG) for Dry Hay… can be challenging. IRG has a waxy leaf and does not dry fast. It might dry a little faster in a mix with alfalfa. It should dry better when the soil surface is dry and humidity is low. It would help to lay the hay in a swath as wide as possible and rake back together before baling. It is good to have chopping or baleage as options.

Grass nitrogen needs. It could be that decaying alfalfa plants will provide enough nitrogen for grasses inter-seeded into thinned alfalfa stands. Watch, and if the grass seems short of nitrogen, it might be useful to provide some.

Inter-seeding rates. It seems to work well to consider the proportion of the stand that’s being filled in. If plant or stems counts show a loss of 30 or 40% of plants or normal stem counts, we might inter-seed with 30-40% of what would be used to seed a full stand of grass. If a full stand of Italian ryegrass was seeded at 25 pounds per acre, then 30-40% of that would be 7 to 10 pounds per acre. Rick suggests backing off from that a little more if on drought susceptible soils.

Where inter-seeding grass in thinned alfalfa, the inter-seeding should be done as soon as possible. Doing this work as early as possible when fields are firm will reduce risk of further damage to good alfalfa shoots and give the grass as much time as possible to get up and going. Thanks, Rick.

What about spring seeding winter cereal grains such as rye, wheat or triticale? My firsthand experience with this is very limited. U of M Extension small grain specialist Jochum Wiersma says winter grains planted in the spring will stay in a vegetative stage, all leaves. The leaf mass might get to be 6 to 10 inches tall. If grazed or cut, it is likely to grow back. This is very similar to the growth pattern of Italian Ryegrass which also stays in a vegetative stage. I don’t have yield data. I tend to be skeptical about spring seeding winter cereals for lots of tonnage – just thinking if this had great potential, it seems we would have been hearing about this for a lot of years already. I could be wrong.

For whatever combination of things people are trying, I’d welcome the chance to look at some of these things and getting some reports about how things turn out.  Life seems to be a lot about “working and learning together.”

Please continue to make SAFETY a key topic in spring work discussions.


Daniel Martens
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems
(320) 968-5077
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