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PEAQ sticks and scissors cut help farmers determine alfalfa harvest in challenging year

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 06/20/2013 10:37 AM

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LESTER PRAIRIE, Minn. —Kraig Krienke, of Lester Prairie, recently chopped alfalfa between rain showers.

He harvested the first crop in McLeod County field after a PEAQ stick test two days earlier showed his alfalfa measured 24 inches with a Relative Feed Value of 190 and a lab test of 167.

Krienke, who milks 210 cows, didn't want hay quality to drop. Tools like the PEAQ Stick and scissors cut sampling, used on his fields for the past two years, is a valuable resource.

Five of the cooperators, including Krienke, harvested all or part of their hay the first week of June. Besides Krienke's farm, PEAQ data was collected at a site near Waverly where the crop measured 27 to 28 inches with buds present. The PEAQ RFV was at 175; a Buffalo field at 29 inches with bud present and PEAQ at 170 and lab test at 171; Eden Valley at 24 inches with PEAQ at 192; east of Rice with a PEAQ at 24.7 with buds present and RFV at 178.

Extension educators work with farmers and business representatives to sample selected fields in central counties, said Extension educator Nathan Winter.

Sampling takes place on Mondays and Thursdays until fields are cut. Results are placed on Extension's Minnesota Crop News website at and are reported on local radio stations.

The data is compiled by Extension educator Dan Martens. E-mail updates are given on the South Central Crops listserv sent out of the McLeod and Meeker County Extension offices.

Krienke says it's a beneficial tool.

"Whatever a producer can do to help you along is good," he said. "We aren't talking about a day or two to make decisions. We are talking hours. If you want a two-day window to chop you have to go on the front end of the window."

PEAQ sticks can be part of the process.

"Not every farmer has to do it, either," he said. "If one farmer in an area does the testing, then the neighboring farmers have an idea of what their own field might be doing."

Martens agreed.

"We hope our project gives people a heads up about what they might take a close look at in their own fields," he said. "Fields are not all going to be the same and the quality needs are not the same for all livestock. Sometimes we get really busy with planting and spraying and not thinking so much about haying."

On June 3, a farm southwest of Upsala reported a height of 21 inches in the vegetative stage with PEAQ estimated RFV at 205 and a lab test at 213.

"Generally we expect when tallest alfalfa stems are 24 to 26 inches and buds are showing up, fresh cut samples would test around 170 to 180 RFV," Martens said. "Adjusting for harvest and storage loss would provide feed around 150 to 160 RFV. This is generally considered good quality milk cow hay. Cool weather tends to result in alfalfa that tests and feeds a little better than normal. This could be the case where the lab tests run consistently higher than PEAQ estimates and Relative Feed Quality is higher than RFV."

Certain practices can help producers minimize harvest and storage loss and support a second crop regrowth, he said.

"In Minnesota, we generally like cutting as soon as the dew is off in the morning to make the best use of sunshine for drying," Martens said.

Producers should consider spreading the crop across 70 percent of the cutting width to speed drying. For baled dry hay, rake the hay together with 40 percent to 50 percent moisture to minimize leaf loss For chopping, rake the hay together when it's close to chopping moisture. It might be different in a hotter, drier part of the summer where the hay can get too dry for chopping.

Rakes and inverters should be set so equipment doesn't scratch the dirt, Martens said.

Get the crop off as soon as the weather allows, he added. It reduces harvest loss and reduces traffic on new shoots. The crop should also be harvested at a moisture that is suitable for the storage system.

Use a good lactic acid-forming bacterial innoculant to speed fermentation in haylage and baleage and, for dry baled hay. Iit can be useful to have the option of applying propionic or proven organic acid products when it's a little too wet for baling safely.

Pack piles and bunkers effectively and run baggers to get oxygen out of the crop.

He encourages producers to talk with neighbors and others about options. If hay isn't likely to be dry enough to bale before the next rain comes, a neighbor might be available to wrap it in plastic.