Proper harvest timing can improve returns for intermountain alfalfa
Harvest timing has a profound effect on the yield and forage quality of alfalfa hay. Early harvest results in low yield but high forage quality and price, while delayed harvest increases yield but reduces forage quality and price. Since gross revenue is a function of both yield and price, it is important for growers to select the optimum cutting schedule. We quantified a biological relationship among yield, forage quality and day of harvest, using the results from 2 years of field studies at locations in the intermountain alfalfa production region of California. An economic analysis, including a decision model, was developed to enable producers to assess current market conditions and seasonal effects, and in turn select the most profitable harvest timing. Our analysis demonstrated that no single harvest strategy is always best. The most profitable approach depends on the rate of change in yield and quality for that season and the current price differential between the quality market classes for alfalfa hay.