Hail destroys first crop of alfalfa
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 05/30/2012 1:29 PM
LAKE CITY, Minn. — The hay field surrounding Dean and Lois Klein's house looks like it was mistakenly sprayed with glyosphate.
The hay was knee high and nearly ready to harvest when a storm with damaging hail roared through the evening of May 2. The hail pelted the hay, knocking leaves from the alfalfa and pounding the forage into the ground.
"It just makes you sick to think about what it looked like before the storm and what it looks like now," Lois Klein said.
A storm brought hail in a swath across the northern part of Wabasha County, stretching from Chester to Pepin townships. The hail struck northern Chester, southern Mount Pleasant and northern Gillford, central Lake and northern Pepin townships.
Naked stems stood in the field of brown early last week, but on close examination new alfalfa stems could be seen sprouting anew from the crown.
Extension educator Dan Martens said he likes to think the alfalfa will push through the residue. Most often, when a crop is damaged by hail a new crop starts from the crown. It's a judgment call whether to rake off the dying residue to get it off the field v. the damage it will do to second crop regrowth.
Dan Undersander, a University of Wisconsin agronomy professor, advises producers to count plants with crowns and undamaged terminal buds. If there are more than 25 plants per square foot, the stand is worth keeping, he writes in a paper on managing hail-damaged alfalfa and red clover.
Producers around Albany in central Minnesota are also weighing their options after their alfalfa was damaged in a May 1 hailstorm, Martens said.
The May 2 storm brought hail to several counties, but it was too early to cause much crop damage as most row crops weren't yet emerged.
In Lac Qui Parle County, buildings and shingles were damaged, said Don Tweet, county executive director for the Farm Service Agency. Windows were also knocked out, but no crop damage was documented.
In Douglas County, small hail fell, but it didn't cause damage, said Jay Backowski, Farm Service Agency county executive director.
In Chippewa County, ping pong ball- to golf ball-sized hail damaged buildings and vehicles, said Liz Ludwig, Farm Service Agency county executive director. The hail set the wheat back, but it was young enough so the growing point was protected, she said. The hail roughly followed Highway 40 across the county.
Back in Wabasha County, the May 2 storm dumped five inches or more in some areas, two inches in others and less than an inch in others. Near Wabasha, 70 mile per hour winds twisted irrigators installed over the past couple years.
Oats in the storms' path appear to be coming back since it wasn't past the joint stage, said Ryan Castle, Wabasha County Farm Service Agency county executive director. Corn wasn't damaged and the county's emergency board decided that less than 30 percent of the county's alfalfa crop was affected by the hail, winds and rain. Damage reports are still being taken.
For some producers, like the Kleins, the storm will mean a significant loss of feed for their dairy herd. First crop typically represents 35 percent to 40 percent of alfalfa yield for the year, Castle said.
Dean Klein said 80 percent of their 300 acres of hay were damaged. They lost one heifer due to the storm. They will also need to make several building repairs.
The amount of hail they received was unlike anything she'd ever seen before, Lois said.
"It looked like it had just snowed so many inches," she said. The hail was so thick on the road that four-wheel drive pickups were getting stuck.
It's lucky no one went in the ditch, she said. A road grader was called to clear the road.