1st Cutting Forage Quality Update ~ May 3, 2021

Erik Smith, Area Field Crop Specialist
Central New York Dairy and Field Crops

May 5, 2021

This is our second week of monitoring 1st cutting for quality in 2021. If you are not familiar with our procedures we use alfalfa height to predict Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) for alfalfa, alfalfa/grass mixed and grass stands. Alfalfa height has proven to be a reliable indicator of NDF values in the field. Here are numbers that are helpful when using alfalfa and grass height as an indicator of NDF content. In general:

Begin cutting 100% grass stands when nearby alfalfa is 14" tall to achieve the desired 50% NDF.

Begin cutting 50/50 alfalfa/grass stands when nearby alfalfa is 22" tall for the desired 44% NDF.

Begin cutting 100% alfalfa stands when alfalfa is 28" tall for the desired 40% NDF.

To achieve the desired NDF it is necessary to begin cutting at NDF values slightly lower than the desired value assuming some harvest and storage losses which the above alfalfa height values reflect. For example 28 inch tall alfalfa is closer to 38% NDF but you will need to start then to end up at 40% NDF.

Estimated days to begin cutting are based on daily NDF increases for grasses of 1% point, 50/50 mixed stands of .8% points and alfalfa of .5% point. Typically, NDF increases about 0.8 to 1.2/day for grasses expecting the lower end of that range in cooler weather and the higher end in warm. Alfalfa NDF increases about 0.4 to 0.7/day again figuring the lower end of that range with cool temperatures and the higher in warm. 

Inside is this week's chart of measured locations, but you can use the location and elevation as a guide to conditions that may be similar to your own. Always check your fields to verify your heights and conditions!

To summarize and make it easier for those whose locations aren't listed, here's a chart showing the relationship between elevation and alfalfa heights across our region.  Alfalfa height decreases by about an inch for every ~240 ft. rise in elevation.  If your location isn't listed, you can roughly estimate your alfalfa's height within a few inches based on your elevation.  Just follow the line

We got the moisture we've been lacking, but now we need some sunshine. We ended up substantially cooler this week than forecast. This coming week's forecast is calling for mild temperatures, but no real respite from the generally rainy and cloudy weather aside from Thursday. As a result, we're projected to be right back down around the 15-year average for cumulative GDD. If the weather stays on the cooler side, we'll be in that grey area where grasses develop more than alfalfa. So keep a close eye (literally) on the maturity of your forage grasses especially.

See the attached pdf of the May 2021 Crop Soil News from Tom Kilcer for information on single-day, wide-swath, conditioner-free haylage.

 




Winter Forage: Windrow Compost vs. Photosynthetic Drying (pdf; 724KB)


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