Steve Orloff has the type of mindset which a successful baseball player needs to win the World Series - at bat in the ninth inning in game seven with the score tied and the bases loaded.

And the pitch – the swing – the crowd roars!

Orloff has never played professional baseball but has a mitt full of winning tools to help Western alfalfa growers score higher yields and production efficiency which can lead to higher profitability.

He is the University of California Cooperative Extension director and alfalfa farm advisor in Siskiyou County in Yreka in the Intermountain region.

Orloff pitched his five ways to improve alfalfa yield and profitability during a standing-room-only seminar held during World Ag Expo in February, sponsored by Western Farm Press’ sister publication Hay & Forage Grower magazine, and Mycogen Seeds.   

Orloff admitted there is no single silver bullet to successfully produce alfalfa. Yet there are key practices which can help increase alfalfa yield and productivity and help growers pocket more money.

The top issue that limits alfalfa yield more often and to a greater degree than anything, Orloff believes, is irrigation management.

“The grower should do their best to determine precise crop water use.”

Get the  latest agricultural news each day to your Inbox. Click here for the free Western Farm Press Daily e-mail newsletter.

This is a difficult task since the human eye cannot actually see what is happening in the field water wise. Much of it happens under the soil surface which makes finding under- or over-irrigation a real challenge.

That said, the easiest and fairly accurate way to determine water content in the soil is with soil moisture sensors, Orloff says. Sensors allow the grower to access soil moisture deeper in the root zone. It usually does a better job than a soil probe.

Second, remember that during specific times of the growing season that alfalfa typically needs less or more water.

“Many growers think their stand needs one to three three irrigations per cutting. It is better to examine the actual water application rate and apply less water in the spring, the most during peak summer temperatures (around mid-July), and less water in the fall,” Orloff said.

In the Intermountain region, the alfalfa specialist says some growers under irrigate during the summer and over irrigate in the fall since the same number of irrigations is practiced between the cuttings.

Orloff shared these ideas to gain “more crop per drop.” Check the early season soil moisture content to determine when irrigation should begin. Start the spring season with a full-water profile. Many irrigation systems do not have the ability to “catch up.” This is important since yield and price are often the highest in the spring.