Estimating fiber content of alfalfa in the field

Alfalfa stands in Ohio had a slow start this spring, but our recent change in weather is causing alfalfa development to move quickly. Stand growth is catching back up to where it would normally be at this time of year. As we approach the end of May many producers will be making harvest decisions.

It is common for many growers to base harvest decisions primarily on alfalfa maturity; however, variable weather conditions affect the rate of bud and flower development in alfalfa and this method can be inaccurate.

Estimating fiber content before harvest can be valuable to producers for making harvest timing and storage decisions. Traditional laboratory methods for estimating forage fiber content are often expensive and time consuming and are not practical as a tool for making harvest timing decisions in the field.

A method developed years ago using alfalfa maturity and height still provides an accurate guide for making harvest timing decisions by estimating neutral detergent fiber (NDF) of the standing crop. This method uses height and maturity stage to estimate NDF in pure alfalfa stands. Visit HERE for instructions on how to estimate NDF in pure alfalfa fields.

We will be monitoring and reporting alfalfa NDF using this method over the next few weeks. Last week the estimated alfalfa NDF at two feld locations was as follows:

  • Wayne County, May 9: 28% NDF
  • Clark County, May 11: 32.7% NDF
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