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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Parlier, California » San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center » Water Management Research » Research » Research Project #436653

Research Project: Develop Improved Alfalfa Post-Harvest and Utilization Strategies as Affected by Genetics and Agricultural Practices

Location: Water Management Research

Project Number: 2034-13210-001-04-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Jul 1, 2019
End Date: Jun 30, 2022

1. Develop and improve alfalfa production, harvesting, storage, handling, and nutritional value to dairy animals and economic value to alfalfa growers. 2. Develop an in-depth understanding of the influence of genetics and agronomic practices (e.g. harvest schedule, salinity, water status) on forage quality and utilization. 3. Develop improved techniques for forage quality measurements as related to dairy production and explore alternative uses for alfalfa.

This project will utilize both laboratory and field studies to improve the utilization and value of alfalfa for livestock and alternative uses. While forage yield is the primary economic factor affecting profitability for farmers, forage quality is a close second. Current market differences between top and bottom quality categories were 50-70$/ton in 2019, totaling between $350 and $500 million per year in California alone. Measurement and maintenance of quality are especially important for determination of price. Additionally, animal productivity can be improved significantly through higher quality forages, and nutritionists continuously demand high quality alfalfa hay as measured by laboratories. Improve protein utilization may reduce manure influences on water quality. Long-distance transport and hay exports are another factor demanding more attention to forage quality (export of hay to other countries is estimated to be 17% of western alfalfa production). Lastly new genetics and new production technology and irrigation are likely to have impacts on quality, particularly the reduced lignin trait introduced in 2014. Thus, methods and techniques for producing high quality alfalfa and determination of quality through laboratory measurements are critical. Field and laboratory studies will be established to study the interactions of agronomic practices and genetics on quality and utilization of the crop and to improve methods of analysis. In study 1, the interaction between influence of reduced lignin biotypes of alfalfa and harvesting schedule on forage quality will be examined. In study 2, the interactions between high and low salinity irrigation water and improved varieties will be examined in terms of the potential impacts on quality. In study 3, the influence of irrigation deficits (water stress) will be examined for influence on quality. In study 4, the project will compare different methods for in-vitro and quality analysis for their value in measuring forage quality. Field trials will be located at various sites within existing UC and USDA facilities as well as sites on farmer’s fields as appropriate. Quality analysis will be conducted at UC Davis and include a combination of wet chemistry and Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) analysis approaches, in addition to innovative approaches developed by the project. Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), NDF Digestibility (NDFD), gas method, ash, lignin, in-vitro digestibility (IVDMD)) will be measured. NIRS calibrations will be improved in cooperation with other labs. Innovative methods, such as particle strength, in-vitro and in-situ and gas methods will be evaluated. This project will work closely with USDA-ARS scientists at Parlier and other sites (USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center), and scientists with animal science, food science, and biological engineering expertise at UC Davis and elsewhere. It is expected that this project results in peer-reviewed journal articles as well as outreach activities such as field days, blogs, and published extension articles so that information generated by this project impacts farmer practices.