Organic Hay Pays Off for Minnesota Farmer

This farmer’s haying process helps keep weeds at bay, boosts soil health, and makes him some money.

| March/April 2018

  • Fernholz has had great success growing alfalfa on his property.
    Photo courtesy FARM SHOW

Carmen Fernholz has been growing hay organically for more than 40 years, and he says it pays off in three ways: He has a strong market of organic dairy producers, it builds soil for his crop rotation, and it controls Canada thistle.

“Canada thistle is the most challenging weed for me farming organically,” says Fernholz. “A good solid stand of pure alfalfa left in place for three years is the best practice I’ve found to keep Canada thistle at an acceptable level.”

Fernholz seeds his alfalfa at about 15 pounds per acre with a cover crop of oats, wheat, barley, or dry field peas. He harvests the cover at maturity.

“If you plant as early as possible, the alfalfa sprouts, but then lays quiet,” says Fernholz. “When you take the cover crop off, the alfalfa blossoms through.”

With later frosts, Fernholz thinks he could take a cutting of alfalfa the first year. Normally he clips it with a rotary mower twice. The first clipping is about a month after harvesting the cover crop. The second is about a month later, especially if he gets weeds coming through with the regrowth.

“Chopping it off provides more cover and biomass to the field,” says Fernholz.

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