alfalfa establishment timing & costs

Asked June 30, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT

Lancaster County, southeast Nebraska: Rain-fed dryland, soybeans this year, now in sixth year of corn/bean rotation, preceded by six years of alfalfa. Looking at alfalfa establishment following bean harvest this fall.

Q1: What timing issues should be anticipated?
Q2: What are projected per-acre costs?

Lancaster County Nebraska alfalfa

1 Response

Alfalfa needs to be sown at least six weeks before the first hard freeze so following a soybean or corn crop it is best to plant in early spring between April 1 and May 15. Soybean stubble that is weed-free can be an ideal seedbed for sowing alfalfa using no-till methods. Sowing no-till will save time and tillage expenses (typically $20 to $30/acre), conserve soil moisture, and minimize soil disturbance that encourages new weed growth. However, if soil tests indicate lime is needed to adjust pH, the lime should be applied during fall immediately after crop harvest and incorporated into the soil. Phosphorus fertilizer, if needed, also could be applied in the fall or at planting time the next spring. Seed will cost $60 to $120/acre depending on seeding rate and variety selection. Roundup Ready varieties are higher priced because of the tech fee. Herbicides and their application usually cost $10 to $25/acre; insecticide can be another $10 to $15/acre if potato leafhoppers become abundant on new alfalfa seedlings. Average rainfall should permit two modest harvests totaling 1.5 to 3.0 tons hay/acre during the seeding year.