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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Parlier, California » San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center » Water Management Research » Research » Research Project #434766

Research Project: Improved Management, Quality and Utilization of Alfalfa for Dairies in the Western U.S.

Location: Water Management Research

2019 Annual Report

1. Develop new tools and strategies for management of alfalfa production in the western U.S. that conserves scarce water resources, maintains water quality, and leads to high quality dairy forage and the delivery of environmental services. (C1: 1A; C3: 3A, 3B) 2. Develop and evaluate tools, technologies and strategies for improved harvesting, storage and handling of alfalfa forage that ensures the delivery of dairy forage of high quality and nutritional value. (C1: 1A; C3: 3B; C4: 4B, 4C)

Objective 1: The hypothesis for this research is that water use efficiency and water quality can be improved in alfalfa production in the arid and semi-arid western U.S. while maintaining high nutritional value as dairy forage. Plot- and farm- scale experiments will be carried out to quantify water productivity of existing production systems of alfalfa and other forage crops (corn silage, grain forages, etc.) and to test production potential using more efficient irrigation methods such as drip irrigation and reuse of low quality water. Crop yield and quality will be determined and analyzed to assess the effect of new water management strategies on water savings and water quality. If the initial plan with drip irrigation or low quality water is not feasible, current irrigation methods with improved irrigation scheduling strategies such as deployment of cloud-based soil and plant water status sensors or aerial evapotranspiration surveillance with drones will be used as the alternate approach. Objective 2: The research goal for this study is to develop new tools and technologies to improve the current process involved with the harvesting, storage, and handling of alfalfa as high quality dairy forage. Both laboratory and field experiments will be carried out to evaluate the current practices of harvesting, storage, and handling of alfalfa forage, their effects on forage quality, and determine the potential processes that can be improved for maximizing operation efficiency and preserving forage quality. New tools, technologies, or management strategies will be tested for the improvement of the harvesting, storage, and handling of alfalfa forage for sustainable dairy production. If selected tools and techniques do not meet the industrial needs for dairy production, additional technologies will be added to the study.

Progress Report
Progress is being made on establishing this new project. Communications have been made between the research unit, Pacific West Area Office, and Office of National Programs on potential approaches that can be taken to define research priorities and approaches. Additional efforts have been made to reach out to stakeholders at the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance and its members in the Western U.S. and California Alfalfa and Forage Association to identify research needs. Cooperative agreements with Kansas State University and University of California have been established to hire post-doctoral researchers to work on the project. Progress has also been made to hire two permanent research scientists to work on water management and forage utilization issues, as outlined in the research objectives. The recruitment efforts are underway and are expected to bring new scientists on board in FY20.