Weather remains an unknown for alfalfa production
Barring any unforeseen weather factors, the coming growing season should be favorable for alfalfa, according to Dr. Bruce Anderson, professor of agronomy at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln.
“Conditions are good for a pretty favorable growing season so far,” Anderson said. “But it all depends on a variety of factors, as the season hasn’t even started.
We have a long ways to go.” Fall moisture was adequate in the bulk of alfalfagrowing regions, and growers in most areas should be able to start out this season with good yields, Anderson said. Some areas in the western Plains may experience moisture pressure because of dry soils, but only a relatively small portion of alfalfa acres in those areas are affected.
“Overall, winter was pretty kind to alfalfa. I’m not expecting, at least in the Great Plains region, any sizeable winter kill issues or winter injury,” he said. “Alfalfa should be able to get off to good start.”
DTN Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson agreed with the favorable forecast, but said growers farther south from Kansas through Texas may continue to be concerned about persistent dry conditions. Those dry conditions could reduce crop output in that section of the country, he said. “Weather looks favorable for the start of the alfalfa season in the central Plains,” DTN’s Anderson said. “The crop is starting out with very favorable moisture supplies due to some heavy rain last fall and some snow during the winter. We are looking for a cool start to spring, and this will allow the crop to get started with limited temperature stress either by conditions being too warm or too cold,” DTN’s Anderson said. “At this point, the first cutting looks like it will be a very good harvest.”
Bruce Anderson said a major factor in alfalfa supplies in 2009 will be the amount of alfalfa acres planted. A substantial decline in alfalfa acreage was noted in 2008 as extremely high commodity price forecasts around planting season caused many farmers to turn some alfalfa acres to corn, soybeans or wheat the previous fall. “A lot of those people are still looking at those annual crops and are considering their potential to do better with those crops than with alfalfa,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of question whether any of those lost acres will return to alfalfa.
My suspicion is that at least this year, we won’t see an uptick in alfalfa acres.” Still, Anderson said hay prices may fall somewhat this season, especially for lower-quality hay. “I think the lower-end hay is seeing some downward pressure because of the heavier supply, and will probably continue to at least average lower this year than last,” he said. If average supplies of dairy quality hay continue, there may be some downward pressure on that as well, as the low milk prices may leave dairy farmers unable to pay premium prices for high-quality hay. Also, if struggling dairies are forced to sell animals, we could see a substantial herd reduction and that could cause a proportional reduction in demand for highquality alfalfa, he said. Supplies of dairy-quality hay were tight throughout the past winter season and will remain so at least until the new crop starts coming in, Anderson said. Prices are also down for non-dairy quality hay, such as grind-type hay or hay for dry cows, as supplies of the lower-quality hay are becoming pretty abundant.
“Winter was relatively easy for many livestock producers, so they didn’t have to extend their use of hay and were able to hold back on the amount consumed,” he said. “We should have a pretty sizeable carryover going into spring, at least more than the last few years.”
Alfalfa growers at this time should especially be watching for winter annual weeds like mustards, penny cress and downy brome, Anderson said. “Last fall provided good weather for many winter annual weeds to get established in alfalfa stands, so they are greening up and starting to do their damage right now,” he said. “They need to be treated with herbicides as soon as possible, especially producers of hay targeted towards dairy and horse markets because of the quality issues.” — DTN