This may or may not come as a news flash to you, but this spring has not been a good one in my corner of farm country. It's like the month of March dragged on for 90 or 120 days. We never warmed up and dried out when the calendar eventually said it was officially spring. The snow didn't want to melt. The temperature didn't want to warm up. Then it kept raining. It stayed cool. It rained some more. Then it snowed. That was in May. And we're not talking a dusting, either. We're talking several inches. In May!
So where does it all lead? Nothing has been done in a timely fashion this year. At least, not in my area. We're now into June and we still have only about 20% of our corn planted and zero soybeans. We're normally done with everything by about the 10th to the 15th of May. We didn't even get started with any fieldwork until mid-May, and that ended up being about a two-day window before more rain returned.
All of the winter weather and frequent wet soils with cold temps combined for some of the most historic winterkill we've ever seen on alfalfa. Alfalfa typically doesn't have much trouble handling winter. If you don't cut it terribly short before the first killing frost of the season, the plants will regrow the following spring. The plant's roots store carbohydrates to generate that regrowth. If you cut the alfalfa before the frost, the root reserves are put toward growth and the plant then has its strength sapped before winter. It more or less starts on an empty tank the next spring. A thick covering of snow during the winter actually helps. That provides plenty of insulation for the plant. It also provides another critical element: air. Even though it's essentially hibernating, the alfalfa plant needs some air movement. If you cut off its air, you can kill the plant. Believe it or not, the plant can "breathe" through a blanket of snow. Ice is a different story. Ice is not good for alfalfa. It cuts off the air supply to the plant. If the ice remains in place on top of the ground for an extended period of time (a couple of days to weeks), it can kill the plant. Hence the name -- winterkill.