Fred Keller of Keller Holsteins in Lake City, Minnesota knows the impact his alfalfa research could have. A dairy farmer who knows that “alfalfa is a key part of profitable, sustainable dairy farming in Minnesota,” Keller will use his recently awarded 2004 SARE grant to get involved in hands-on on-farm research about this crop.
His project, “How Fall Cutting Versus Fall Residue Affects Yield and Quality of Alfalfa the Next Year,” will examine three different cutting methods for alfalfa, some of which will challenge the current wisdom of leaving fall residue in alfalfa fields for cutting in the spring – a practice which often causes problems for farmers. “Many of the recommendations about fall cutting are based on research done twenty years ago,” Keller points out, and new varieties may be more tolerant of fall cutting.
Alfalfa is a perennial plant that fixes its own nitrogen, improves soil health, minimizes erosion, and provides high quality forage for milk cows. It can sometimes be injured or killed over the winter. The Kellers have worked with their local extension agent, a crop consultant, and their state forage specialist in setting up treatments.
This project is important for small family farms and for sustainable agriculture, since “Improving our understanding of alfalfa harvest management will help us and other farmers maintain profitable dairy farms.” Keller hopes that a greater understanding of harvest management will help other farmers, too. He will share information with farmers through field days, publications, and at Midwest Forage Association and University Extension meetings. Results will also be presented nationally at the annual conference of the American Forage and Grassland Council in 2005.
Keller Holsteins is a traditional dairy farm in the rolling hills of southeastern Minnesota.
To determine how fall management affects quality and yield of newer alfalfa varieties Keller will divide 15 acres into 6 strips representing 2 reps of 3 methods: a) taking a fall harvest in mid- October, b)clipping residue in early spring, c) harvest fall residue with first spring cutting.