Lucerne success – we’ve got your back!
Lucerne (Alfalfa) is a perennial legume well-known for being an excellent feed crop, with farmers achieving high levels of animal production even in dry soil conditions.
Lucerne is also a flexible crop that is environmentally friendly and improves soil health. It's not just for hay and silage – some farmers grow it for grazing and are achieving top results. Considering farmers can expect eight to 10 years from a stand of lucerne, it’s a great option for drought-prone areas.
Finally, lucerne is known to support Fonterra farmers working towards the Co-operative Difference Payment, which pays up to an extra 10c per every kilogram of milk solids. One of the requirements of this programme is that at least 80 percent of the feed for stock must come from the property, so growing crops such as lucerne will help achieve this.
Lucerne in farm systems
If lucerne is managed correctly, the benefits for production and profit will be very worthwhile. For help with establishing the crop, contact DairyNZ or your preferred seed supplier, and talk to us about the supporting implements – discussed below.
To produce a protein-rich supplement, lucerne is best planted in Spring – typically mid-August to late November. It grows straight with a long taproot to extract water from deeper soil layers, giving it excellent tolerance to moisture stress.
Select free draining paddocks free of perennial weeds. Waterlogged soils will create an environment for root rot and other fungal diseases that might kill seedlings or lower yields. If weeds are present they must be controlled before drilling your lucerne stand.
Also, planting into a paddock that previously had lucerne in it (12 months prior) will not work because lucerne produces a chemical that prevents the germination and growth of the same plant types.
Don’t forget to soil test before planting to determine crop lime and nutrient requirements – the goal is for a pH of at least 6.3.
The FarmMax Air Seeder can be mounted onto a wide range of tractors and is a simple and accurate pneumatic seeder to meter and spread small seeds. By working it with the Forigo Power Harrow, the two-step task is reduced to one pass – allowing you to soil prep and seed in one session. The FarmMax Air Seeder is very easy to set up and calibrate with the Forigo Power Harrow, and because it is GPS monitored, the seed flow will adjust to the speed driven. Read more about the FarmMax Air Seeder here.
The Forigo Power Harrow is a heavy-duty machine that can easily crumble big clumps to prepare a well-levelled seeding surface. The vertical rotating axis guarantees superior soil ventilation, and the working depth can be adjusted to suit lucerne (which should be planted no deeper than 25mm) and other species. These power harrows are long-lasting with low power consumption and suited to all tractor types.
If you are interested in the 18 disc Aitchison Seed Drill, good choice! As one of the world’s most popular seed drills, it makes light work of reseeding or renovating pastures and cultivated soils. With a low horsepower requirement, they have a patented sponge seed distribution system that is gentle, accurate and able to sow most seeds in any condition. Fitted with 14” concave disc openers make them good for stone or rocky environments.
Best-practice harvest techniques for lucerne will depend on your goals of yield and quality and the region it’s grown in – again, we recommend seeking sound advice on harvest management.
Lucerne should be cut 4-6cm above the ground, and the first harvesting should remove only the top of the plant and leave the crowns untouched.
When making lucerne silage, it is essential to minimise the time between cutting and baling or stacking. This can be achieved by cutting when wilting conditions are good and using a mower-conditioner. We recommend our range of SaMASZ Conditioner Mowers – lucerne is quite hard to dry out, so the tine conditioners will speed up this process.
For quality, high fibre lucerne hay, again cutting early is key (post-maturity risks leaf loss and thick stems which are stubborn to dry). Lucerne hay should be soft, green, leafy, sweet smelling and free of dust and weeds.
Again, our SaMASZ Conditioner Mowers will ensure lucerne is conditioned at the time of mowing, allowing it to dry faster. This is the best time to condition because the crop is wetter, leading to less leaf loss and guaranteeing soft, high-quality hay.
We recommend a Peecon Mixer Wagon from FarmShop for efficient feeding out to livestock. If used on a feed pad or similar, waste is minimised compared to feeding it in the paddock.
For more information about the profit potential and labour savings of a Peecon Mixer Wagon (not just for lucerne) watch this video. South Kaipara dairy farmer Don Watson has seen impressive results for his herd.
Please get in touch with us if you would like an on-farm demo of any of the implements discussed above. We can assist with finance, trade old gear, or chat about the right solutions for your farm – it’s all about maximising yields, and that’s why we are here!