Alfalfa Poses Challenges

Alfalfa works as a cover crop, but be ready to take the good with the bad.

No-tiller Dan DeSutter, of Attica, Ind., remembers using alfalfa after buying some of the least productive farmland in Fountain County, Ind.

“It had never produced 130-bushel corn or 40-bushel soybeans. It needed tile and lime and cleaning up,” he says. “As soon as we got those things done, we put it in alfalfa for 5 years. We tried to kill it in the fall, but didn’t do it very well.

“The next spring, I got carried away planting crops and pulled into this field last, and geeze, the place was green,” he says. “As much as I didn’t want to till it, it looked like a disaster waiting to happen.

“My dad encouraged me to stay the course, so I went ahead and planted it, and it was a 195-bushel corn crop that first year from ground that our soil maps say was as poor as any in the county,” he adds. “It beat a lot of my good ground that year, and since then it’s been consistently been at the top, even though the soil type shouldn’t allow that.”

Even so, DeSutter says, “Alfalfa might be the ultimate cover crop, but it takes more than 1 year to do any good. It takes a 3- or 4-year commitment. Plus, it’s very expensive to seed, and you have to have something to do with the alfalfa.”

University of Illinois agronomist Mike Plumer has worked…

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