How foliar feeding alfalfa can upgrade yield and feed quality

"Did you ever mow a field of alfalfa — then when you came back and windrowed it, you wondered where it went?"

That's an opening remark about hay quality which I heard many times from veterinarian and crop consultant Dr. Dan Skow of International Ag Labs in Fairmont, Minnesota. Doc passed away in 2013, but Midwest livestock producers and farmers still follow his advice.

Doc encouraged farmers to nourish alfalfa with basic soil fertility based on principles taught by Dr. Carey Reams. He recommended foliar feeding alfalfa at 3 to 4 inch height in early spring and during regrowth after each cutting. We followed that advice here at Renewable Farming, and achieved his goal: solid stem alfalfa with excellent protein and relative feed value.

This week, AgriEnergy Solutions e-mailed clients an encouragement to foliar feed alfalfa. This is one of the most efficient ways to apply minerals and biologicals on alfalfa, whose leaves cover a high percentage of ground surface. AgriEnergy Solutions of Princeton, IL is a WakeUP distributor.

Solid stem alfalfa signals high quality and yield

Here's AgriEnergy's advice.

Summer is the time to make foliar applications on hay, pasture and other forages, not only to increase tonnage and quality for the rest of this season, but to fortify and set up the crop for next year. Many AgriEnergy Solutions growers have done this for years. They see more tonnage, higher feed quality, thicker stands and stronger root systems to carry the plants into winter.

An AgriEnergy dealer in Northeast Iowa demonstrated this by treating a field and leaving check strips. This particular alfalfa crop was treated with: 

2 gallons SP-1™ (now use MVP), 5 gallons Pillar 15, 6 ounces OroBoost 

His first application was on May 18.  On May 24, just 6 days after treating, the forage analysis indicated: 

RFV (relative feed value) on the treated sample was 280 compared to the untreated of 248, a 13% increase.

RFQ on the treated sample was 315 compared to the untreated of 275, a 15% increase.

The mineral status was similar for both treatments, except that the treated sample had higher zinc, copper, and manganese levels. 

We ran a second set of tests on June 5, just prior to harvest. Results were very similar: 

RFV on the treated sample was 240 compared to the untreated of 190, a 26% increase!

RFQ (relative feed quality) was 231 on the treated sample compared to the untreated of 208, an 11% increase.

RFV is intended to reflect how well an animal will eat and digest a particular forage if it is fed as the only source of energy.

RFQ is an estimate of how much available energy a non-lactating animal will obtain daily from a particular forage if it is all that is fed. Hay with higher RFV and RFQ usually garners a higher price in the market because it is deemed to be a more desirable feed source. 

The lower test numbers of the check reflect a more advanced maturity of the crop, making it more fibrous and less digestible.

These tests were just for one cutting.  Usually, subsequent cuttings show a similar increase in quality if not more, as the plants are better prepared to endure heat and drought stress through the summer.

How will your investment this summer affect next year’s stand?  A commercial hay grower in northern Illinois recently commented, “Boy, what we foliar fed last summer sure looked great this spring.  It had less winter kill, greened up faster and is an impressive stand.  We are definitely doing that again this summer!”

Renewable Farming recommends enhancing effectiveness of your foliar nutrients for alfalfa with WakeUP Spring for glossy leaf coverage and quick absorption of nutrients into metabolism.  In-season WakeUP cost for 5 ounces per acre is only about $3.50. Good hay is bringing $170 per ton now; $5 and up per 50-pound bale. Tested, high-quality hay for dairy is worth even more.

Click this link to download a three-page summary of some forage tests we've done in previous years.