1st Cutting Forage Quality Update ~ May 24, 2021

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

May 26, 2021

This is our fifth and final 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.

Predicted days to cut 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. See the following fact sheet for more details: Predicting Spring Fiber Content of Forages

Below is this week's chart*, 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 own heights and conditions!

This will be the final First Cutting Forage Quality update for 2021 for the Central NY region, since most of our fields have been cut and the rest are less than a week-or-so away from their peak quality. The weather gave us a fast start for grasses and then a frantic finish once the ground dried out, but hopefully most of us were able to get good quality silage and baleage before planting summer crops. Our friends in Delaware county have published their most recent scissor cut results, which can give us an idea of what we can expect from similar mixes at similar heights.




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