As the remnants of Winter Storm Stella melts from the fields, it's time to check hay fields. Jeff Miller with Cornell Cooperative Extension has a "MacGyver-ish" tip on evaluating plant populations.

Grab some pvc pipe and make a square one foot by two foot.  Place the square in five different locations throughout the field and count the number of alfalfa crowns you see. Here comes the math, Jeff says total the number of crowns and divide by ten.  This gives you the live crowns per square foot in your field.

 If you have 5 or more live crowns per sq ft you have a viable population of alfalfa. If you have 4 crowns/ sq ft count the number of stems. If you average 55 or more stems per sq ft then you have a viable alfalfa population.

Taking it a step further, you can check the health of the roots.  Dig up a few plants and split the root, white means healthy, while yellow, brown or red indicates disease.

If you have a healthy field, Jeff offers some advice on maintaining the quality:

  • Field should have a pH between 6.5 – 7.0 with adequate phosphorus, potassium and boron.
  • Cutting cycle should be no shorter than 30 days to promote longevity of the stand.
  • Traffic on fields should be limited to 5 days after harvest to prevent crown damage.
  • First harvest should be based on alfalfa height and percent grass in the sward.

You can read more about predicting the quality of your hay field at CCE's website.
SOURCE:  Cornell Cooperative Extension - Jeff Miller

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