Back Timing of spring lucerne planting & harvesting a priority

Date: 25 November 2016

If you are planting lucerne this season, cultivar selection based on leafiness is important. Lucerne leaves contain 70% of the protein and 90% of the vitamins and minerals. Therefore selecting a cultivar with a higher leaf to stem ratio will give you better returns. 

Pioneer® lucerne varieties, including 55Q27 and 55V50, have been selected for improved field appearance and forage quality. Growers have commented on their high leaf to stem variety, the fact these products maintain and hold their leaves as they reach harvest maturity. Further comments include high utilisation of the whole plant compared to other lucerne varieties. More dormant varieties will always hold leaf for longer than slightly more winter active varieties which is why semi-dormant varieties are always used for quality hay production. Pioneer® 55V50 in particular has been selected as a ‘muscle variety’ with the ability to push out new regrowth quickly. This makes it suitable for intensive hay and silage production.

Existing lucerne stands are also growing steadily. This means timing of spring harvesting to maintain forage quality is also a priority. 

Lucerne quality is highest when harvest takes place at an early stage of development. This is when leaf is a high percentage of the total dry matter yield. Cutting silage or hay early during spring and summer, when plants are still vegetative or only have 10% flower buds, will maximise quality. This is usually when plants are around 30 cm in height. It is recommended that cutting takes place from late morning to mid-afternoon as leaf sugar and starch concentrates are slightly higher than any other time of the day. Cutting for high quality means that the lucerne must be harvested within a 3 - 4 day harvest window. It is recommended prior to autumn to let stands flower once to approximately 40% full bloom prior to cutting. This is to allow the lucerne to build up its carbohydrate root reserves for winter and the subsequent spring production. 

If making lucerne silage, use a high quality lucerne specific silage inoculant such as Pioneer® brand 11H50 to ensure that a fast, efficient fermentation takes place.

For more information on lucerne, contact your local Pioneer representative.