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Seed Alfalfa by Mid-August in Northern Indiana

Above: Purdue Entomology Professor Christian Krupke at the Agronomy Center for Research and Education, inspecting alfalfa plot for the presence of alfalfa weevils

A Purdue expert warned that messaging for the planting date of alfalfa in past years may not have been as clear as was intended.

Dr. Keith Johnson, Purdue forage specialist, recently wrote about an experience he had with a young alfalfa producer.

“I was asked to come to a field in early April many years ago by a young producer,” he said. “The producer and the seedsman that sold the alfalfa to the producer met me at the field.” Johnson explained that the cause of concern was that there was an expectation of green alfalfa growing after breaking winter dormancy in Mid-March. Instead, what was seen was light brown soil; not a trace of green from anything was seen.

“I dropped to my knees and got my eyes within 12 inches of the soil surface,” he said. “What I saw was what had been an outstanding stand of alfalfa seedlings, at least 24 dead alfalfa seedlings per square foot, no more than 1-inch in height that were the same color of the soil.” He asked the producer when he seeded the field. The producer replied, “October 7”. The “Best Management Practice” would have been to have the alfalfa seeded by late August, according to Johnson.

Johnson explained that timely alfalfa seeding is always important to get an excellent stand, and when seeded so late, it does not have time to develop into a winter hardy plant.

You may have heard discussions about fall seeding alfalfa over the years. Johnson said that if this novice alfalfa producer was part of one of these discussions, he did exactly what he was told or heard; he seeded on a beautiful fall day. “This in-field experience resulted in me correcting anyone that talks about seeding alfalfa in the fall,” said Johnson. “The right time is to have the seeding task accomplished by mid-August in northern Indiana and very early September along the Ohio River Valley.”

In 2023, autumn officially begins on September 23 (ranging from Sept. 21-23, depending on the year). After hearing a general recommendation to seed alfalfa in the fall, strict adherence to this date could be misleading in relation to seeding alfalfa at the proper time. “Seedling development continues in the fall, but seeding and germination should happen in August and very early September,” said Johnson.

“The lesson from this event – be specific when giving recommendations,” he said. “Someone is listening!”

For more information on alfalfa management, consider the purchase of Alfalfa Management Guide, available at Purdue Extension’s “The Education Store,” Find Johnson’s original article at

Keith Johnson
Dr. Keith Johnson, Purdue forage specialist
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