Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/1/2000
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: Interpretive Summary: The genetic resources of the genus Medicago are an important component of world and U.S. agriculture. The genus includes alfalfa, which in the U.S. alone is grown on more than 10 million ha with a value on more than $5 billion. In addition, the annual medics are becoming increasingly important in rotation systems, winter pastures and in sustainable agricultural systems. Improved uses for Medicago species will be driven by the availability of genetic resources. Key collections of wild populations of Medicago used for breeding improved cultivars are available in several gene banks world-wide, including a major collection in the U.S. It is critical that the effort to maintain and preserve these collections is continued for future crop improvement.
Technical Abstract: The genus Medicago is one of the most important agricultural crop species used for agriculture. There are 85 recognized Medicago species ranging from the highly self-pollinated annuals to the allogamous perennial species. Among the ten cultivated species, alfalfa (M. sativa) is the most economically important. More than 10 million ha of alfalfa is cultivated in the U.S. alone. In addition, several of the annual medic are economically important, especially in the Australia under cereal-medic rotations (ley-farming). Medics are also being used increasingly in North America in rotation with cereals and as a winter pasture in the Southern Plains. They also have a potential niche as a high quality forage in sustainable agricultural systems in the upper Midwest. Key gene banks holding collections of Medicago are located in Australia, the U.S., and France. The needs of the collections include more material from the centers of diversity in Asia, tropical Africa, and Northern Europe. A greater effort is also needed to conserve species in situ that have no current economic value but with the potential for use. For perennial Medicago, collections are generally under-represented for species other than the M. sativa complex. Wild and cultivated populations within the M. sativa complex and among the medics are of interest not only for forage, but potentially for uses as wide ranging as fiber crops for power generation and for the rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems.