John Baker


A few (25-some) years ago while traveling across the countryside with my family, I would say loudly, “Hey!” Everyone in the vehicle would jump a little and look at me and say, “What?” I would then proceed to point at the freshly mowed field of alfalfa or the stack of bales in the field. I’d get the “Awe dad… really, hay?!”

Well, I want to yell out “Hey!” to all of you alfalfa growers. Due to our late spring, we were lulled into thinking it would be the 1st of June before any hay was to be cut.  Most of the alfalfa in Southeast Minnesota broke dormancy on April 21st to the 24th, which was 3 to 4 weeks later than normal. However, since then we have had almost perfect growing conditions for alfalfa. We have been seeing consistent above normal temps which has lead to growth that is unprecedented in the 34 years of my experience monitoring 1st crop growth. By Thursday, May 10th, most fields had grown to 12 to 13 inches and had PEAQ heights of 14 to 15 inches.


On Monday, May 14th, plant heights were 14’’ with PEAK heights at 17”. This was after a cooler stretch of weather. By the morning of Thursday May 17th,  those same fields grew to an average height of 19 to 20 inches with PEAQ heights of 21 to 24 inches. I have not seen any buds yet but suspect we will see them start to pop over the weekend.

If the weather stays above normal for the next 4 days, I predict we will see PEAQ heights around the 27 inch range and buds starting to push out. Now we just need to watch the weather for an opportunity to get it harvested without hurting the quality. One thing we have learned about 1st crop over the years is that it just feeds better than other crops. I have not seen any research as to why that might be. We speculate it may have something to do with an increase in nutrients that come from the freezing and thawing of soil, thus releasing more micronutrients into the plant and the normally slow growth of 1st crop. The growth has not been slow this year, so I am hopeful that it has more to do with the soil. I recommend that you get out and walk through your fields and see what the height and maturity is of your alfalfa fields. Remember, you will have 15 to 30 point loss in Relative Feed Value (RFV) from field to feeding. If 150 to 160 is your target feed quality, you want to be in the 170+ PEAQ values.

I get a lot of questions about what to do if the alfalfa is maturing and it doesn’t look like we have enough of a weather opportunity to get it all up. My old answer was “JUST CUT IT,” and still is for all the other crops. I believe 1st crop maturity is a little more forgiving of what a cow needs to milk on and cutting later by 4 to 5 days seems to not effect milk production as much as it effects RFV.  My new answer is “IT DEPENDS.” It depends on your individual situation. What is your current inventory; are you out and need it now? Do you have the ability to do wide swath cutting? Do you have the ability to separate wetter haylage (plus 67%) so you can get it fed up in less than 70 days? If you say yes to two of these, I suggest that you go ahead and cut….

I now do some country side driving with my grandchildren. Every once and a while one of them yells out Hey! This startles me for a second, then makes me smile, as it is now a tradition!

Here are a couple of additional links to predicting alfalfa quality:

Using a Growing Degree Calculator to Predict NDF of Alfalfa

Using PEAQ Measurements to Predict NDF of Alfalfa