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1.This document is Fact SheetRF-AC001, one of a series of the Extension Administration Office, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and A g ricultural Sciences, Universit y of Florida. First published: June 1987. Reprinted: Januar y 1994. Reviewed: Jul y 1997. Please visit the FAIRS Web site at http://hammock.ifas.ufl.edu .The Institute of Food and A g ricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without re g ard to race, color, sex, a g e, handicap, or national ori g in. For information on obtainin g other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office. Florida Cooperative Extension Service / Institute of Food and A g ricultural Sciences / University of Florida / Christine Taylor Waddill, Dean2.Carol Chambliss, associate professor; Earl S. Horner, a g ronomist; Charles O. Ruelke, professor emeritus; T. D. Hewitt, associate professor, NFREC, Quinc y ; John Gordon, professor, Food and Resource Economics Department; Kathleen C. Ruppert, assistant professor, Florida Ener gy Extension Service; Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and A g ricultural Sciences, Universit y of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611,.1Fact Sheet RF-AC001Alternative Opportunities for Small Farms: Alfalfa Production Review1 Compiled from information obtained from Carol Chambliss, Earl S. Horner, Charles O. Ruelke, T. D. Hewitt and John Gordon b y Kathleen Ruppert2Alfalfa has not been widely grown in Florida becauseto horses and dairy cattle in Florida is imported from other seed of persistent (long-lived) varieties has not beenstates. commercially available. This deficiency has been corrected by the development of a new variety, `FloridaAlfalfa can be grazed, ensiled, used as a greenchop 77', that is resistant to the spotted alfalfa aphid and isfeed, or made into haylage (alfalfa wilted to 45 to 50% more productive and persistent than earlier varietiesmoisture and stored in air tight containers) or hay. It is released in Florida.used most efficiently as fresh forage and least efficiently as Alfalfa is not recommended to a grower who is notto have both hay and haylage making alternatives so that willing or able to fertilize, plant and manage it properly. the crop can be harvested as haylage during rainy periods. It requires a good, fertile soil which is well drained. SoilsBut, this involves additional expense in owning two sets which may become waterlogged or flooded for extendedof harvesting and storage equipment. Use of a large round periods must be avoided. Those who have not hadbaler and a bale wrapping machine to make round bale previous experience with alfalfa should plant only a smallsilage could be a possible alternative. acreage the first year to determine how well it grows on their particular farms.Alfalfa hay may be baled in large, round bales as are small, rectangular bales is better in many cases. AlfalfaMarketin g SituationAlfalfa produces a very high quality forage for all kinds of livestock, but it is especially valued by dairymen because of its favorable effect on milk production. Horse owners in the state also place high value on good alfalfa hay. At the present time most of the alfalfa hay being fed hay, haylage being intermediate. A desirable situation is most grass hays in Florida. However, the market for must be stored under a shelter, or should be protected by plastic in the field. Weathering of alfalfa hay is much more severe than with grass hays.
Pa g e 2 Alternative Opportunities for Small Farms: Alfalfa Production ReviewJune 1998productivity. Although alfalfa can experience frostLabor and CapitalFall plantings of alfalfa in the southern coastal plain are generally ready to cut for hay during the months of March or April in North Florida. Decisions on when to cut, how to cut, and how often to cut influence the qualityThe economically productive life of a stand of of the hay. Rain and drying conditions also influence the`Florida 77' will depend largely on soil type, fertilization, quality of the hay and must be considered in harvesting.and management. It has been possible to maintain In 1993, establishment costs for an acre of alfalfa inat Gainesville. The better the initial stand, the better the North Florida totaled about $311. This includes both cashchances that an adequate number of plants will survive for expenses of $258 and fixed costs of $53. Whenthree years or more. established, an acre producing four cuttings per year will cost about $275 plus the land costs. With a yield of 4Careful attention must be paid to the lime and tons per acre the cost per ton is about $70 while a 5 tonfertilizer requirements of alfalfa if the crop is to be a yield produces a cost of $60 per ton. Prices received forsuccess. Lime should be applied before land preparation. alfalfa hay range from $125 to $175 per ton and pricesA pH of 6.5 to 7.0 in the top 6 to 10 inches is necessary received for haylage range from $50 to $70 per ton withfor good production. Generally, the fertilizer should be both price ranges depending upon quality and market.applied in split applications, half in the fall and half in the Harvests should usually be made at intervals of aboutrequire attention (particularly boron). 4 to 6 weeks during the active growing season. Delaying harvest beyond 4 weeks results in lower quality forage, aAlfalfa should be planted early in the fall to insure build-up of leaf disease and loss of leaves. When alfalfa isestablishment of the stand before the first frost. In north grazed, rotational grazing should be used so that plantsFlorida it should be planted between September 15 and have a chance to recover. Strip grazing makes it possibleNovember 1. The seed must be inoculated just before to utilize the forage more efficiently while damage to theplanting with a fresh supply of the alfalfa-sweetclover plant stands is minimized.cross-inoculation group of bacteria; on sandy soils, double At times, making haylage from alfalfa is advantageousTen to 13 lbs of seed per acre should be drilled in rows 6 for growers who can utilize it. Poor hay-drying weatherto 10 inches apart, using a grain drill equipped with a during the rainy, summer period is not as much of aforage seeding attachment and press wheels. The seed problem with haylage and more leaves and nutrients canshould be placed at a depth of 0.6 to 0.8 inch, and the soil be preserved. Alfalfa is not so easily ensiled as corn. should be firmly packed. If drills are not available, the Although alfalfa contains more protein, it does not have asseed may be broadcast, harrowed in lightly, and high a level of soluble carbohydrates as corn. Cuttingcultipacked. With this method, about 18 to 22 lbs per alfalfa and letting it wilt in the field to 45 to 50% moistureacre are required because much of the seed is placed either before chopping and storing improves haylage quality. too deep or too shallow. Round bales wrapped in plastic or plastic tubes such as used with a Silopress or Ag Bagger can be a convenient and desirable alternative for storing alfalfa haylage as compared to the more permanent storage structures.Suitabilit y Florida 77 is like other alfalfa varieties in that itSeveral diseases caused by pathogenic fungi can affect the performs best on well-drained soils that do not havefoliage, crown, and root system of alfalfa in Florida, but highly-developed hardpans. On such soils it develops ano control by use of fungicides is recommended. deep root system, which makes it drought-tolerant. In general, alfalfa has a high water requirement and thereforeUse of herbicides may be necessary to control warm irrigation is required in high sandy soils for maximumseason grass and broadleaf weed species during seedling damage, it will recover.Plantin g Situationsatisfactory stands for three years on Arredondo fine sand spring. The micronutrient requirements of alfalfa also the amount recommended on the package should be used. Cultural Pro g ramInsects may be a serious problem in alfalfa during the spring and fall growing seasons. It is necessary to check the fields frequently, because some insects can build up rapidly and cause much damage within a few days. establishment, particularly with early seedings in a warm
Alternative Opportunities for Small Farms: Alfalfa Production Review Pa g e 3June 1998fall. Wild mustard or wild radish can also be a problem during the winter after seeding. After the plants have reached bloom stage, however, a good stand of well-fertilized alfalfa will compete successfully with most weeds because it recovers quickly after harvest and grows faster than the weeds. It is especially important to avoid applications of herbicides at rates higher than recommended. Also, a potential alfalfa producer should be sure to determine what and when herbicides have been used on the acreage previously to see if the same herbicides are compatible with alfalfa.