by Jeremy Sweeten
In the December 2016 issue of Progressive Forage, the author pointed out several benefits/challenges of using a nurse crop when establishing alfalfa. Here are a few of his thoughts:
- Nurse-cropping may reduce weed pressure in a new stand.
- Nurse-cropping may reduce the yield of your alfalfa over the life of the stand.
- Therefore, it may be wise to reduce the seeding rate of the nurse crop.
- Cut the nurse crop early, at boot stage instead of waiting for the soft-dough stage.
- When harvesting the nurse crop, will it be used on the farm or sold to another producer?
That article caused me to think about a few other ideas.
A nurse crop can be a blessing or a curse when it comes to seeding forages.
With the use of Roundup Ready alfalfa, obviously, no nurse crop is needed. Some producers are able to harvest spring seeded Roundup Ready alfalfa three times in the seeding year.
The Worst Nurse Crop
In my opinion, the worst nurse crop to plant is oats that are taken to grain. The oats compete with the alfalfa for moisture, sunlight, and nutrients. The oats are going to win because of their aggressive growth. Which is more important, alfalfa for 5-6 years or a one-time crop of oats? With current oat prices, there is no economic return on raising oats for grain as a nurse crop. Take care of your long-term investment.
Elevator Spring Triticale as an Option
A good alternative to oats is Elevator spring triticale. Elevator can be seeded at a higher rate (up to 70 lb/A) and is much less competitive with the new forage crop. It is best harvested in the late boot stage and can be harvested as dry hay, baleage, or silage. The spring triticale does not grow as fast as oats and allows the alfalfa to establish and grow with less competition than oats.
So if you are short on feed, plan out your options before choosing to use a nurse crop.