Assessing older alfalfa stands to determine viability is crucial, according to University of Arizona Area Assistant Agent Eric Norton for La Paz and Mohave counties in Arizona.

“One approach is applying the “6 or 55” stand rule. Since alfalfa is harvested for its vegetative component, getting a feel for how much alfalfa is out there is a good way to evaluate a stand,” Norton said. “If there is a minimum of six or more healthy plants per square foot, this is an indication of a productive stand. Also, a stem count of 55 or more per square foot is another healthy stand indicator.” Any less and yield declines will begin, he noted.

Alfalfa varieties typically start to decline in yield potential in the third production year. Production costs change little whether in a high or low yield range. Harvesting costs vary little as a function of yield, Norton noted.

“There are other factors outside of stand health that influence a grower’s decision whether or not to leave a stand in. Pre-planned rotations, market prices and others impact decision making, but it’s important to know what shape the stand is in,” he said.

According to information provided by Norton on Sept. 25, 2006, the most recent Blythe-Parker FOB alfalfa hay prices from the Agricultural Marketing Service’s USDA Market News for the past two weeks averaged about $97.50 per ton with the low at $95 and a high of $100. Prices for the same period in 2005 averaged $111.48, with the low at $108 and the high at $117. He noted prices represent estimates from the surrounding area based on hay quality. Actual prices may deviate somewhat based on supply/demand and actual hay quality.

For more information, contact Norton at (928) 669-9843 or by e-mail at enorton@ag.arizona.edu.