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Effective Alfalfa Stand Management

By Darren Goebel

Alfalfa is a crop that responds well to management. Growers should plan to manage alfalfa differently, however, depending on its planned use, yield goals and how often it is acceptable to refresh the stand. Stand establishment, fertility and cutting management are the three main tools growers can use to affect quality, yield and stand persistence, with cutting timing having the biggest impact on the these characteristics.

Relative feed value, a measure of quality, is highest when alfalfa is cut at the bud stage. This is especially important when growers are raising alfalfa for dairy cows, since dairy cows need the very best ration in order to maximize milk output. One consequence of repeatedly harvesting at the bud stage, however, is that alfalfa stands will need to be reestablished more often, since the plant doesn’t have time to adequately recover between cuttings. Yield per cutting will also be reduced when cutting at the bud stage. However, since an additional cutting per year can usually be taken, total yield per acre per season will be pretty similar to cutting at full bloom. For growers who want to optimize stand, quality and yield, cutting at 10% bloom is a good alternative. Cutting at this stage provides acceptable hay for beef cattle and horses.


No matter what your management plan, eventually stand density will decrease. Plant and stem counts should be conducted periodically to determine the yield potential of a field. When alfalfa growth is 4 to 6 inches in height, use stem counts (stems per square foot) as the preferred density measure. Count only the stems expected to be tall enough to mow. A stem density of 55 per square foot has good yield potential. Expect some yield loss with stem counts between 40 and 50. Consider replacing the stand if there are less than 40 stems per square foot and the crown and root health is poor. Older stands typically have fewer plants per square foot, but older plants produce more stems than younger plants.


When replacing alfalfa stands, rotate to corn or small grains for a minimum of one year to avoid auto-toxicity. If you plan to go back to alfalfa, check pH, P, and K levels before reseeding. It is very important to maintain medium to high nutrient levels and pH should be maintained as closely to 7 as possible. Due to alfalfa seed size, seed to soil contact is critical, so seedbeds must be thoroughly prepared to prevent clods. A Sunflower® 6333 land finisher or 6830 rotary finisher with reel is the ideal alfalfa seedbed preparation tool. Seed alfalfa to a ¼ to ½ inch depth on clay or loam soils and ½ to 1 inch depth on sandy soils. A Sunflower 9610 grain drill with legume seeder paired with a Fendt tractor is the perfect combination to plant alfalfa accurately.


The Massey Ferguson GC2400: Small Tractor, Big Jobs

In 2010, John and Beth Barth of Bushnell, Fla., realized they needed a tractor to maintain their land and tend to their grove of olive trees. “We didn’t really know what to buy,” John says. “We wanted a small tractor.”

The Barths drove to Brooksville, Fla., 30 minutes away and purchased a shiny red GC2400. “We knew it was a good name,” says John of the Massey Ferguson® brand. They also purchased a rotary cutter, a front-end loader, a potato puller and a disk for all the needs on their property.

John Barth on the GC2400.

John Barth on the GC2400.

In the five-plus years the Barths have owned the tractor, John has put more than 285 hours on the machine. “I’ve spent hundreds of hours with the front-end loader, moving wood chips, soil and driveway stone,” he says, noting it’s a small but powerful tractor, especially considering he uses it to maintain 10 acres.

“It’s not a big machine,” John explains, “but it’s perfect. It’s quick; that’s one of the nice things about it. The tractor gets around the front yard and house real fast.”

John also cites comfort. “It’s saved my back a million times,” he says.

“The tractor has been a godsend, a blessing for us,” John adds. “It always runs! That’s the main thing. Our tractor has been a very, very good thing for us.”

For their full story, see Liquid Gold: Growing Olives in the Sunshine State.

Challenger Tractors: ‘Stick There Like Glue’

“Our topography is pretty steep,” says Garry Esser about the less-than-level land he farms. “It’s a challenge, but,” he says with a grin, “you’re never bored.”

Raising a variety of crops, including wheat, barley and canola, as well as peas and pulse crops, Esser and his son John farm land in the ever-undulating Palouse region of western Idaho. It’s a tough assignment for most tractors, according to Esser, who farms on some steep slopes.

Garry and John Esser

Garry and John Esser

That’s one of the reasons he runs Challenger® track tractors, including an MT855. “They just stick there like glue … and they’re light and nimble,” he says.

Esser notes that with the rubber-track Challengers, “You’ve got the speed of a wheel tractor for moving up and down the road, and yet still have the benefits of the tractor sticking to the hills. And, they get power to the ground per weight like nothing I’ve ever driven.”

Due to a need to reduce compaction, weight is a particular concern for Esser. “In the spring, when we’re fighting compaction, we can lighten this tractor up … and still pull our equipment because the Challenger line has done a real good job of getting [power] to the ground.” He adds that “a lot of the competitors’ tractors weigh 60,000 pounds when they’re delivered, and you really can’t do a lot with that. That’s just heavy.”

Running just two tractors, uptime is critical for the Essers. They rely on Agri-Service in Pasco, Wash., for parts and service. “We’ve known them a long time,” Esser says. “Their guys are sharp. They’re real responsive. We’ve been very pleased with their service.”

For more, see

National Farm Safety and Health Week


167 farm workers are injured on a farm and a worker dies in a farm accident EVERY DAY.

38 children are injured on a farm EVERY DAY and a child dies in a farm accident EVERY THREE DAYS.

Farm safety is important to every farmer and operator.  AGCO® works hard to deliver safe equipment and operating instructions on how to use our equipment most effectively.  In recognition of National Farm Safety and Health week AGCO offers the following guidelines to help make sure EVERYONE stays safe during harvest:

  1. Manual and Safety Signs. Read your operator’s manual and safety sign information.  They are packed with information to help you be more productive, increase the life of your equipment and keep you, your family, and workers safe.
  2. Maintenance. Keep all machinery serviced and maintained properly.
  3. Guards. Make sure all guards and shields are in place and secure.
  4. Turn the machine off when not operating. Put equipment in neutral or park, engage parking brake and turn off engine before dismounting. Wait until all mechanisms have stopped moving before attempting to service or unclog a machine.
  5. Working under the machine. Lock hydraulic cylinders or support the head prior to working.
  6. Crop Debris. Make sure all crop debris is removed at frequent intervals to reduce potential fire hazards and possible equipment damage.
  7. Fire Extinguishers. Keep and maintain suitable fire extinguishers on your combine. Make sure they are accessible from the ground.
  8. Children. Create a Safe Play Area for children on the farm that has effective adult supervision and safe play activities for children.  Equipment cabs are not safe play areas.
  9. Bystanders. Keep bystanders and others away from the equipment operation area.
  10. Blind spots. Make sure the area behind the combine is clear before backing.
  11. Riders? Limit riders on equipment! Instructional seats are designed for training or diagnosing machine problems.
  12. Seat belts. Wear seat belts.  ANYONE in the cab should have his or her seatbelt fastened.  Do not lean against the windshield or rely on it to keep you in the cab.
  13. ROPS. Have rollover protective structures fitted on tractors.
  14. Towing. Always use safety chains for towed equipment.
  15. SMV. Always use a slow moving vehicle sign and flashing amber warning lights on public roads.
  16. Road Safety. Never travel left of the center of the road after dark, during poor visibility or when approaching the top of a hill or a curve.
  17. Stay alert. Be physically and mentally fit when operating machinery. Fatigue, stress, medication, alcohol and drugs can detract from safe equipment operation. Take breaks.
  18. Training. Train all operators to safely operate the equipment.

1 2012 Data from CDC website:

2 2014 Fact Sheet, National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety

For more information see the following websites:


AGCO Equipment Helps With Long-Distance Farming

Dan Baum was one of the first farmers in the U.S. to own and operate a Massey Ferguson® 9545 combine. The machine is outfitted with an AGCO 9250 DynaFlex® draper header, which helps him maintain the high level of efficiency he needs during the busy harvest season, an important part of his operational equation.

Dan Baum

Dan Baum

“We’ve had Massey Ferguson equipment on our farm for at least four generations,” says Baum, whose farm base is 24 miles from Moline, Ill. “When I was a kid, we traveled 15 miles, not 120 miles,” like he does today. “Back then, that was a big distance.”

“We’ve got one fleet, and it does it all. We typically start planting down south and work our way north,” he says. “We couldn’t do all of this without our machinery technology. We’re not always on the leading edge of technology unless it helps us gain efficiency.”

This approach puts a premium on performance, and that’s a big reason Baum chose a Massey Ferguson combine: “We’re looking at fuel efficiency, ease of maintenance and simplicity of design.

“We’re pretty handy, and our team does a lot of our own repairs if we have time. These machines are designed to be user-friendly, and easy to repair and maintain. It was obvious that the folks at Massey Ferguson had repair and maintenance in mind when they designed them.”

Operation is also straightforward. “It’s easy for me to train an employee in that machine. That’s of value to me,” he adds. “When we’re running multiple machines and operators, I don’t have to train them to be rocket scientists. It’s not overwhelming for my operators.”

Baum purchases his Massey Ferguson and other AGCO equipment from A.C. McCartney, operator of four dealerships in west-central Illinois. He has a strong relationship with the dealership, and the trust underpinning that relationship is something he calls a huge value to a young farmer in his position.

“We work hard on building relationships and trust in the industry. Young farmers like us need to be willing to work hard and work differently,” Baum says. A solid, trustworthy dealership, he says, helps him stand out.

For more, see


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