What is lowest maintainence food plot?

Discussion in 'Iowa Whitetail Conference' started by corygnc, Aug 27, 2006.

  1. corygnc

    corygnc New Member

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    moorhead, iowa
    I have 100 acres of CRP in Kansas along with about 100 acres of timber/creek and I live about 3 1/2 hours from the land. I have access to any farm equipment and want to put in about 10 acres of food plots in the CRP.

    2 questions for you.

    1. What to plant?
    My initial thoughts were RR Alfalfa because it would be the easiest to maintain. It will take some work getting it in but after that just probably have to spray it with RR with my 4 wheeler for the next 10 years.

    2. How to prepare a food plot in CRP?
    The CRP has some switch grass in it and has not been burned or mowed for about 8 years. I was thinking of mowing it and then rounduping it and then no tilling the RR alfalfa in it.

    Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks, Cory
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  3. Central Iowa

    Central Iowa Administrator

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    Central Iowa
    By far I wouldn't consider it the lowest matinence food plot with cutting, spraying, diseases, and insects. Dealing with these all take time and effort. If all you want to do is plant it and forget it then it probably wouldn't be the best choice. Is there anyone in the area that could mantain it for you? Then that may be a choice. Many factors should be considered when picking a plot. Is it to be hunted over, or is it nutritional? When and how do you hunt if it is a hunting plot? What is the weather like where you hunt when you plan on hunting the plot? Are you competing against other food sources, and how are the deer densities where you plan on hunting? I'm sure I missed a few but all these should all be a factor when deciding what to plant.
    Here are a couple of excellent articles about alfalfa the first from dbltree and the second from the QDMA web site

    Alfalfa: By dbltree

    Alfalfa tends to be longer-lived then clovers and is better suited for very well drained even sandy soils. It will do well on heavy clay soils providing it has good surface drainage. If water pools at any time of the year it will kill alfalfa in those areas. Alfalfa is susceptible to heaving from extreme freezing weather with no snow cover, which can cause the root crowns to heave and eventually kill or thin the stand. Alfalfa can send roots down as far as 10 feet enabling them to withstand drought and pull minerals from the subsoil. A healthy stand of mature alfalfa can also provide up to a 150#’s per acre of nitrogen for a crop such as corn when it is time to rotate your plot.

    There are many varieties of alfalfa from old standbys like Vernal to Alfalfa graze, which is better to suited to grazing then haying. It is best to buy seed suited for your area and climate, so check with your local seed dealer for recommended varieties. Legumes such as alfalfa provide a food source very high protein for deer; in much the same manner as cattlemen use them for pasture and hay. Deer will use them from early spring until heavy freezes in the fall. Turkeys will use it for a strutting zone and hens will bring their poults to feed on the insects drawn to the flowering plants. Alfalfa is also a preferred nesting source for pheasants, providing the area is not mowed until after early June nesting.


    Begin by taking a soil test to check fertility levels and soil PH. Your local extension service or ag supply dealer can do the testing for you. The ph should be in the 6.5 to 7.5 range and may require several tons of lime per acre. Whenever possible apply the lime the fall before spring planting as lime works slowly, however if time is of the essence it can be done at planting time. For small plots, applying 300-400# of 6-24-24 fertilizer would be fine. If you have a larger plot, your local fertilizer dealer can mix according to your soil test. If you will be tilling the plot, apply the fertilizer after initial plowing or tillage and disk or drag it in before planting. Both fertilizer and lime can be applied with an ATV mounted spreader, lawn spreader, tractor mounted spreader or in larger plots by commercial applicators available thru your local fertilizer supply dealer.
    Remember alfalfa is a legume and if you use properly inoculated seed, it will require no nitrogen fertilizer.

    If the area is in sod (grass, weeds etc.) mow the area first, wait until it starts to re-grow and then apply 1 to 2 quarts of Roundup per acre. Allow a week to 10 days for the sod to die before tilling up the site. Sod can be difficult to till and is easier to plow or use a rear tine tiller then to disc. Once the sod is broken up disk, drag or till the soil, until it is a fine level surface is preferred. One option is to plant RR soybeans the first spring, kill the sod with Roundup, let the sod breakdown, and then either till down the beans in late summer or frost seed the clover on the bare ground in late winter. Planting buckwheat in late spring and tilling it under for fall seeding is also works well.

    At this point, it is important to remember that legume seed is very fine and cannot be covered like larger seeds. It must be planted on a firm surface, which will require the use of a cultipacker, lawn roller, chain link fence and plank, or some variation of these.
    Seeding rates for clear alfalfa should be about 15-20# per acre, 5-10 if planted with a mixed stand of clover.

    Once the surface has been rolled, plant at approximately 8# per acre using a hand broadcast seeder. Open the seeder to about a 1/8” and seeding by walk in both directions to get good coverage. If you have access to a drill or tractor/ATV mounted seeder it can save a lot of walking! After planting, roll the seed in, it should not be covered more then a ¼” deep so DO NOT disc or drag the seed in! Doing so will bury the seed to deep! A lawn roller is perfect for small plots and is something that can be borrowed or rented if you do not have one. You can also run back and forth over it with an ATV to press the seed in or drag a heavy plank, but a roller is the fastest and works perfectly to cover the fine seed.
    Legume seed should be inoculated with bacteria inoculate designed for that species of clover or alfalfa. Without this, inoculate the legume will not be able to “fix” nitrogen as quickly. Many seed companies sell seed pre-inoculated while others do not. You can purchase inoculate and mix it yourself at seeding time.

    Spring planting:

    Early spring seedings work well but may require weed control using mowing or herbicide. If the area has been in crops of some kind, tillage will be much easier. If it is in sod and requires mowing, spraying etc. as well as the variable of frequent spring rains, you may find spring planting somewhat frustrating! April and May are good times for spring seeding but beyond that, your seeding may germinate and then be left starved for rain because it is root system has not progressed enough reach for moisture during the dry summer months. Broadleaves will be the worst problem when dealing with spring seedings, so be prepared to clip weeds frequently or use 2-4DB to control weeds.
    Alfalfa is often established by seeding in early spring with a “nurse crop” such as oats. This works best in cases where the oats can be mowed and baled while still green. In a food plot case they would need to be clipped off at an early stage to prevent smothering.

    Late Summer/early fall planting:

    Planting this time of year offers many advantages. You have plenty of time to prepare the area for seeding, weather is unlikely to be problem and your plot will not require spraying and mowing the first year. Mid to late August is a perfect time to seed legumes. If possible seed just ahead of a rain to get your seeding germinated and up and growing. If there is any weed growth, the first frost will kill the broadleaves. If you have killed the sod/grasses with Roundup, they should not be a problem for now.
    This time period is by far the preferred time period to seed both clover and alfalfa. Fall is generally not a dry time of year so timely moisture should have your legumes at 4-6” high and very tender and palatable for hunting season!
    Late summer seedings eliminate the need for weed control, mowing (the first fall) or using nurse crops. Forage oats could be used however as they will be killed at the first frost/

    Frost seeding:

    Frost seeding is NOT recommended for alfalfa.

    Establishment costs:

    Seed can run anywhere between $2-$6 per lb or $25-$50 per acre. Fertilizer can run $250 to $400 a ton depending on if it is bagged or bulk. Lime can vary also depending on if you purchased pelleted lime which is easier to apply with a small ATV mounted spreader or with a pull behind lawn fertilizer type spreader. If you have a larger and accessible plot, there are people with lime spreaders who will apply lime in bulk, which is much easier and cheaper. Roundup will be around $10 per acre.


    Your alfalfa will need to be mowed periodically or it will get rank and unpalatable to deer. In some spots, heavy deer densities will take care of that problem for you. Mowing your
    alfalfa before it gets to tall will keep it tender and prevent smothering of the plants by the residue from clipping it. Clip when it reaches 8-10” high to a height of about 4-6”.
    Another option is to have a local farmer remove your alfalfa for hay, providing it is not under CRP contract, even then CRP can be hayed every 3 years after August 15th. Check with your local FSA office for details.
    A healthy thick stand that is clipped frequently will not normally have many weed problems. Grasses will be the first to invade and herbicides like Poast Plus will take care of that problem. 2-4DB will work to kill broadleaves in clover but always check the label when using any herbicides. Do not use 2-4D, as it will kill both clover and alfalfa! 2-4DB can cause some injury such as twisting and curling of stems.


    Depending on the soil type and the success of your seeding, alfalfa can last as long as 8-10 years. Maintenance in the form of clipping and spraying to control weeds and grasses will ensure that your legume plot last for many years. It will not only provide top quality feed for deer but habitat for other wildlife as well. Do not attempt to plant alfalfa after alfalfa, always plant another crop for at least one to two years before rotating back to alfalfa. When it’s time to rotate to another crop, plan for one that requires a heavy dose of nitrogen and alfalfa will be a ready provider!

    Everything you ever wanted to know about Alfalfa: http://www.americasalfalfa.com/alfalfau.htm

    Welter Seed Company is an excellent source for alfalfa seed in Iowa: http://www.welterseed.com/productItems.aspx?id=1&org=0

    By: Kent Kammermeyer

    Before reading this article, take a quick test by checking all that apply:

    __I am a deer manager who won’t settle for second best.

    __I want to grow the Cadillac of deer forages.

    __My friends call me meticulous, competitive, discriminating, and obsessed.

    __I don’t keep up with the Joneses. I am the Joneses.

    __My thumb is extremely green.

    __I have access to spraying and haying equipment.

    __I have reasonably fertile, well-drained soils in fields larger than three acres.

    If you checked several of the above, but especially the last three, you might be a candidate for growing alfalfa.

    Alfalfa is among the Cadillacs of deer forages, but just as there are reasons why we don’t all drive Cadillacs, there are reasons why every deer manager cannot successfully grow alfalfa — a long list of them. But the obstacles to success with alfalfa can be overcome if you know what you must accomplish when you set out, and if you have the resources to meet your goal. Consider the following, then decide for yourself if you are up for the alfalfa challenge.

    About Alfalfa
    Known as the “Queen of Forages,” alfalfa is one of the most palatable and nutritious forage crops, and it also the oldest in cultivation — it originated in the Middle East and was first introduced into United States by colonists in 1736.

    Alfalfa is rich in protein, with levels ranging from 20 to 30 percent depending on growth stage. It is also high in digestible energy, vitamins and minerals, and it has a very high yield potential, in the range of five to six tons of dry weight per acre, per year.

    Alfalfa is a perennial legume that is erect-growing with many leafy stems arising from large crowns at the soil surface. A mature plant will have multiple stems which can reach the height of 24- to 36-inches tall. Stems are branched and slender and bear three leaflets. The flowers of most varieties grown in the South are normally some shade of purple. The plant’s long taproot makes alfalfa drought tolerant.

    Alfalfa is currently grown in most areas of the United States accounting for nearly 30 million acres of production, mostly for hay. Depending on variety, it is adapted to the entire United States, however it can be difficult to grow in the Deep South. For best production, it requires a well-drained soil with neutral pH (6.5 to 7.0) and good fertility. In particular, alfalfa needs lots of potassium.

    Alfalfa is used primarily as a hay crop, although new grazing varieties are available that tolerate moderate grazing but should still be hayed as needed (see the inset on haying for more information). With careful management and selection of varieties, it can be used successfully as a strong perennial food plot for deer, remaining productive for three to five years. Stands have been known to persist for five years or more if adequately fertilized and cut at the proper stage of growth.

    Alfalfa Variety Characteristics
    The older varieties of alfalfa could not withstand heavy continuous grazing like you get from a high deer population grazing in small, isolated food plots. With the introduction of grazing-tolerant varieties, this has changed, and many small-field plantings of alfalfa for deer have been successful in recent years. For deer food plots, besides selecting a variety that was developed to resist heavy grazing, varieties of alfalfa are available with specific characteristics bred for fall dormancy, winter hardiness and resistance to insects and diseases. As a general rule, the greater the fall dormancy, the better the winter survival and overall persistence is going to be for any given variety. Weak winter hardiness can cause lower forage yield in spring and reduce the life of the stand by two or more years. However, dormant varieties have less vigor, less late summer and fall growth and lower forage yield potential than the less dormant types. Fall dormancy is important in the North but not generally in the South where winter low temperatures are more forgiving.

    Regardless of variety, it is important to time the last fall cutting of alfalfa hay so that there will be about six inches of re-growth to establish a strong root system going into winter. Even so, if your deer graze it back to two or three inches in the fall, your stand is vulnerable to winter injury.

    A snow cover of six inches or more protects alfalfa plants from severe cold. During winters without snow cover, soil temperatures can fall below 15° F, injuring or killing plants. Warm fall weather and midwinter thaws can cause alfalfa to break dormancy and have less resistance to freezing.

    Selecting the right alfalfa variety can be bewildering. Hundreds of alfalfa varieties are rated on fall dormancy, winter survival and resistance to various diseases and insects. Go to www.alfalfa.org and click on “Variety Leaflet” for the 2005-2006 edition of ratings entitled Winter Survival, Fall Dormancy & Pest Resistance Ratings for Alfalfa Varieties. A few of the recommended grazing varieties that you will see in these ratings include: Alfagraze (north and central), Amerigraze 401 (north and central), Amerigraze 702 (southeast) and Amerigraze 701 (southwest). Better yet, consult your local county agricultural agent, seed dealer, or agronomist for even more grazing varieties that will do well in your area.

    Soil Requirements and Seedbed Preparation
    Alfalfa is a heavy user of plant nutrients. Careful pre-planning is very important in establishing alfalfa, and it should go without saying that a soil test is the first step. Applications of fertilizer and lime should be based on annual soil-test results.

    A pH of 6.5 to 7.0 is necessary — slightly over 7.0 is even better. Alfalfa does not tolerate acid soils below a pH of 6.2, especially in the seedling stage. Adding a ton of lime per acre to the amount recommended by the soil test ensures neutral pH and can add a year or more to the lime longevity before re-application is needed. Apply lime six to 12 months in advance and incorporate to six inches depth by disking. Phosphorus (P) levels should be at 90 units per acre and potassium (K) levels at 250 units per acre split over at least two applications per year. K should be applied after the first hay-cutting in spring and after the last cutting in late summer to ensure a continuous supply to the plants.

    Sulfur, if called for in soil-test recommendations, and boron should be broadcast and incorporated prior to seeding.

    Since alfalfa is a legume, nitrogen (N) application is not necessary but, if applied at planting, should not exceed 40 lbs./acre. Never apply N on established alfalfa stands.

    Alfalfa requires a deep, permeable soil with an adequate moisture supply. It is sensitive to poor drainage and compacted soil conditions that restrict root growth. A good seedbed for alfalfa is finely pulverized, leveled, and firmed to the seedling depth. Perfect planting conditions also include ample soil moisture from about two inches of rain just prior to seeding, if you can time everything right. This will ensure good seed germination and plant establishment. When possible, use a pre-emergent incorporated grass herbicide such as Eptam. When incorporated at three- to four-inches deep it will keep most grass competition under control.

    Planting Date and Seeding
    Most alfalfa seeding in the United States occurs from August to October or March to April. Northern ranges usually require sowing in August or April, while Southern plantings do better in September or March. In spring, plant near the average date of the last frost. Fall plantings tend to be more weed free and should be planted at least six weeks before the date of the average first freeze.

    All alfalfa seed should be inoculated immediately prior to seeding or purchased pre-inoculated. Inoculated seed should be kept reasonably cool until planted.

    For best seedling survival, drill seeds approximately ¼-inch deep. Seedling emergence is greatly reduced when seeds are planted deeper than ¾ of an inch. If you broadcast the seed, cultipack the soil after broadcasting. A firm seedbed is critically important for establishing alfalfa and prevents heaving during freezing and thawing conditions.

    Seeding rates are 15 to 20 lbs./acre for drilling and 20 to 25 lbs./acre when broadcasting. Mixing with small grains is not recommended because of competition in the early seeding stage. Alfalfa can be mixed with red or ladino clover at reduced rates (5 lbs./acre of clover to 15 lbs./acre of alfalfa) but this practice is not recommended, again because of competition in the early stage, with alfalfa generally being more sensitive than the clovers.

    Insects, Diseases and Weeds
    More than 20 diseases can be serious problems for alfalfa in the United States. These include fungal and bacterial wilts, anthracnose, leaf spots, crown and root rots, viruses, and nematodes. Resistant varieties are available for most of the diseases and nematodes listed. The document mentioned earlier from www.alfalfa.org covers disease resistance.

    There are also a number of insect pests on alfalfa in the United States. These include the alfalfa weevil, clover leaf weevil, blister beetles, several aphids, potato leaf hoppers and the alfalfa plant bug. Depending upon the severity of the infestation, chemical control of insects may be necessary to maintain a healthy, productive stand.

    Weeds can also be a serious problem with alfalfa, especially in spring planted stands. In all plantings, preparing a smooth, firm, weed-free seedbed is essential. Use of pre-emergent chemicals (see above) may be necessary. Watch for warm-season weed competition in the spring and treat accordingly as needed with post-emergent selective chemicals. Chemical selection depends heavily on the offending weed species, as each has different vulnerability to the selected chemical and some chemicals can seriously weaken alfalfa stands.

    Here again, when it comes to identifying and combating diseases, insects and weeds in alfalfa, seek advice from your local Extension agent.

    Each year after planting, follow fresh soil-test results in re-applying P and K and control weeds and insect pests such as the alfalfa weevil as needed. You will need to cut and remove hay (near 50 percent bloom stage and before most of new crown growth reaches bloom height) down to three inches tall as needed in late spring and summer when growth exceeds the deer herd’s ability to graze the growth down to three or four inches.

    Roundup Ready Alfalfa
    Several varieties of Roundup Ready Alfalfa from several different companies have recently been approved by the EPA for sale and growth in the United States. Roundup (glyphosate) is a broad-spectrum herbicide that kills a wide range of plants. It is not normally applied directly to crops. The Roundup Ready technology incorporates genetic resistance to glyphosate into crop plants by inserting a single bacterial gene that modifies an enzyme essential for plant growth. Monsanto has used this technology to develop several Roundup Ready crops, including cotton, soybeans, and corn.

    Roundup Ready technology will enable the development of new weed control strategies for alfalfa. Specifically, these new varieties will allow glyphosate to be applied over the top of the entire crop to control a wide spectrum of annual and perennial weeds commonly found in alfalfa (always refer to the herbicide label for the full spectrum of weeds controlled and application guidelines). Several of these weeds, especially perennials, are difficult to control using conventional herbicides or non-herbicide weed-control methods. Although scientists at Monsanto and Forage Genetics International have developed the technology, Roundup Ready alfalfa varieties will be marketed broadly by a wide range of seed companies. Important characteristics, such as genetic resistance to insects and diseases and yield potential, remain important criteria for selecting a variety. The Roundup Ready trait enables a unique weed control program to be used in alfalfa. You should be prepared to spray for weeds multiple times during the growing season.

    Your seed dealer should have access to Roundup Ready varieties by the spring 2006 growing season. Be prepared to pay a premium price for this seed! You may have to plan on spraying high rates per acre multiple times per year depending on weed species, weather and stand density.

    Why You Need to Hay or Mow Alfalfa
    New growth is the nature of the highly productive alfalfa plant. Haying at the half-bloom stage (when half of the plants have begun to bloom) takes out mature growth as it moves past the nutritious vegetative stage and into flowering and seed production. Haying serves to rejuvenate the stand, setting it back to nutritious, young growth again. It encourages new crown growth as it discourages fungal diseases that often occur on old crown growth. Haying also removes a potentially thick mulch that smothers new growth, provides a medium for diseases and adds nitrogen (N) to the soil, which shortens the life of the alfalfa stand and fuels weed competition.
    Mowing (especially with a mulching mower) is a poor substitute for haying but is still much better than doing nothing. Mowing removes old crown growth and rejuvenates the stand but still drops the dead mulch back on top of the new growth, reducing the life of the stand. Mowing instead of haying may reduce the longevity of alfalfa stands to a maximum of three years instead of five or six. Not cutting the stand at all reduces longevity even more.

    Summary and Comments
    Alfalfa is not a panacea or a miracle plant. It is dormant from November to April in most of the United States and is therefore a poor choice by itself for cool-season forage. Small grains, clovers and brassicas do better in this period. Alfalfa is expensive and somewhat difficult to establish. It requires careful management, including strict attention to pH and fertility, especially potassium, chemical spraying for insect or weed control, and removal of excess growth for hay, if possible.

    Despite all this, alfalfa can be worth the effort in the right program. Alfalfa is an excellent forage plant for deer. It is highly productive, palatable, nutritious and persistent. Well-managed alfalfa stands can be highly productive for five or more years. If you haven’t gathered this already, alfalfa is a good choice for the deer manager with good farming equipment, including sprayers, and plenty of farming experience.

    I would not recommend planting more than 50 percent of available food plot acres in alfalfa and would not plant it in fields smaller than three acres in size. Plant the remainder of your acreage in a bona fide cool-season mixture such as clover/small grain mixes. Monitor alfalfa stands closely, and aggressively treat for weeds, insects or diseases as needed. Once again, do not skimp on potassium fertilizer!

    One final piece of advice — put your local agricultural Extension agent on speed dial. Invite him or her over for Sunday dinner at least twice per month from April through October as you carefully and methodically pick his or her brain for alfalfa maintenance tips.

    Consider yourself informed about alfalfa and the extensive planning and care that go into a successful crop. Still think you qualify as a potential alfalfa farmer? Go for it!

    About the Author: Kent Kammermeyer is a senior technical advisor to QDMA who recently retired after 30 years as a wildlife biologist with Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Kent served as the Georgia White-tailed Deer Committee chairman for more than 20 years, and he has published more than 250 popular articles on deer management and food plots. In 2005, Kent was honored with the Career Achievement Award from the Southeast Deer Study Group, becoming the eighth person to receive the award.
  4. TimberPig

    TimberPig Active Member

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    Wow CI, that was alot of info! I wont try to compete with that (and didnt have time to read it all) but I would offer this. If I had land I wanted in alfalfa that was that far away, I would find a farmer locally that would plant it and let him harvest it either free or for a reduced amount, on the condition that he not cut after July or so. This would take care of all the maintenance and expenses, while leaving you plenty of crop for the hunting season.
    Another thought would be corn. If you have the equipment you could probably fertilize, till, and plant in one day, come back a month later to spray, and you are pretty much done for the year.
    I think you would be pretty disappointed planting clover or alfalfa and not doing any maintenance all year.
  5. dbltree

    dbltree Super Moderator

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    SE Iowa
    [ QUOTE ]
    If I had land I wanted in alfalfa that was that far away, I would find a farmer locally that would plant it and let him harvest it either free or for a reduced amount, on the condition that he not cut after July or so. This would take care of all the maintenance and expenses, while leaving you plenty of crop for the hunting season.
    Another thought would be corn. If you have the equipment you could probably fertilize, till, and plant in one day, come back a month later to spray, and you are pretty much done for the year.
    I think you would be pretty disappointed planting clover or alfalfa and not doing any maintenance all year.

    [/ QUOTE ]

    This post should really be moved to the WM forum, but I did try to answer your questions Cory on the QDMA forum.

    TP has the right idea, you need to find a farmer to take hay off for you if your going with alfalfa.

    You can do it thru the CRP program Haying and grazing of CRP ground

    or remove 10 acres and just rent it to a local farmer, either way RR alfalfa planted right with good fertility could last you 10 years! [​IMG]

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