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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Alfalfa to Be Used to Generate Electricity and Feed Cattle / November 19, 1996 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Comparing the biomass of a single alfalfa plant selected for use in electric energy production with several smaller alfalfa plants bred for use as livestock feed. Link to photo information

Alfalfa to Be Used to Generate Electricity and Feed Cattle

By Dawn Lyons Johnson
November 19, 1996

ST. PAUL, Minn., Nov. 19--A new type of alfalfa in the works in Minnesota holds promise as both a high-protein feed source for dairy cattle and an environmentally friendly energy source to generate electricity for Minnesota consumers.

Scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service here have teamed with researchers at the University of Minnesota to develop the new alfalfa. The first generation of the new type is taller, stronger and has thicker stems than alfalfa typically fed to cattle. The researchers say the leaves can be stripped off, ground into meal and fed to cattle, while the stems can fuel electric generating plants.

The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The new alfalfa will be grown and marketed by local farmers, including a southwestern Minnesota farmers’ cooperative that also plans to build a generating unit and sell electricity.

"First and foremost, the new alfalfa type provides a large new market for alfalfa, “ says ARS dairy scientist Hans Jung, coordinator for the ARS portion of the energy project. “It won't compete with existing alfalfa markets because it isn't being produced strictly as animal feed.”

A feasibility study shows it would be profitable to market the stems for energy production and the leaves for meal. Whole plant alfalfa brings about $100 per ton on the open market in Minnesota. Selling the alfalfa leaves as a value-added product could bring additional profits to growers.

"We believe there is a good market for the leaf meal in many areas of the livestock industry, especially dairy cattle," says Jung.

A report on this research is featured in the October issue of Agricultural Research, the monthly magazine of the Agricultural Research Service. The magazine can be viewed on the World Wide Web in PDF file format at:

Scientific contact: Carroll Vance, Plant Science Research, USDA-ARS, 411 Borlaugh Hall, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn. 55108. Telephone: (612) 625-1991;

Last Modified: 4/18/2014
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