Here’s how to evaluate spring alfalfa and ‘inverted’ grain markets

By Dan Martens, Extension Educator

Alfalfa growers are thinking about dry weather last fall related to building root reserves, cold weather, snow, winter rain, ice, spring freeze/thaw. Ice accumulating in low spots could be the greater concern in central Minnesota.

Stand assessments can be made when the alfalfa has had a chance to get to be about 6 inches tall. Alfalfa growers should always have a plan for where they would plant alfalfa next — as needed.

Stem counts per square foot can be a good way to evaluate alfalfa in the spring. The general guideline is as follows:

1. Greater than 55 stems should offer full yield potential.
2. Between 40 and 55 stems may indicate some yield reduction, but that’s probably more than adequate in years of low inventories and high hay prices.
3. Fewer than 40 stems indicates a poor stand that might not be useful to keep.
4. Desirable grass mixed in with lighter alfalfa stands could contribute favorably to yields on some fields depending on feed needs and feeding strategies.

It’s also helpful to dig out and examine tap roots to a depth of 6 inches or so in several locations in fields. Cut roots lengthwise. Healthy roots are white and firm. It’s not unusual to find some browning on the inside of roots and crowns as stands get older.

Regional Extension educators Doug Holen, Phil Glogoza, and University of Minnesota forage researcher Craig Sheaffer offer a more complete discussion of this topic. It can be found on the Extension Web site by searching for “Minnesota Extension Crop News.”

A picture sheet discussion of internal root conditions can be found by searching for “Wisconsin Extension Alfalfa Stand Assessment.”

In Stearns, Benton, and Morrison Counties, call Extension Educator Dan Martens for this information and related questions at 1-800-964-4929.

Grain market review

Consider grain markets carefully. State Extension Grain Marketing Specialist Ed Usset offered a couple of observations about inverted grain markets recently. An “inverted” market is when the price today is higher than forward pricing. For example, because of last year’s drought, prices for corn this week were around $6.58, which is higher than the forward pricing for next fall’s crop of $5.12.

Here’s Ed’s note:

“The 2012 drought had a huge impact on grain markets. With planting just weeks away, corn and soybean prices are displaying extraordinary inverses ($2 per bushel and more) from today’s price to the price quoted for new crop delivery next fall. In the next five months, these inverses will be resolved.

“One way for these prices to come into balance is for new crop prices to rise and meet the higher nearby prices. This is how the inverse was resolved last year, as drought blanketed the Corn Belt.

“This scenario would be good news for Minnesota farmers. Minnesota, in general, fared better than most Corn Belt states in last year’s drought. A number of Minnesota producers still hold last year’s crop in storage.

“The other way to resolve the inverse is for old crop prices to collapse toward lower new crop values. History and the productive capacity of the Corn Belt suggest this is the more likely  course of resolving the inverse in prices from old to new crop values. There is a double risk in the “normal crop” scenario. Not only could old crop prices collapse, new crop prices could sink even further. This would not bode well for the value of grain in storage, nor would it bode well for producers who have not started to price 2013 corn and soybeans.

“Minnesota producers concerned about drought in 2013 seem to have that base covered. Crop insurance is in place, old crop grain is still in storage, and little action has been taken on pricing 2013 corn and soybeans. It may be time to consider the normal crop scenario. Today, new crop pricing opportunities remain at or above production costs. There is no guarantee that this will be true next fall. Some new crop sales are needed to balance the risk of a ‘non-drought’ scenario.

“Past years with similar inverses include 1996, 2011 and 2012 in corn, 1997 and 2004 in soybeans.

“Analysis of the data offers more information about the resolution of old and new crop prices. Visit the University of Minnesota Extension Web site at for details. “