1st Cutting Forage Quality Update ~ May 24, 2022

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

May 25, 2022

This is our fourth and final week of monitoring 1st cutting for quality in 2022. 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 (folks receiving the snail mail version of our First Cutting Forage Quality Update will receive this fact sheet in print).
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 heights and conditions!


If you haven't cut yet, chances are you're somewhere within 10 days of doing so for peak quality:

Alfalfa Height Chart 1
Alfalfa Height Chart 2

Even those with 100% alfalfa stands in slower-growing areas should be ready to harvest by this time week. We began May a few weeks behind last year's development, but with the favorable weather, we've completely caught up to last year's schedule.


Winter forages are heading out, so please check on your fields' development to ensure you're able to harvest.





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