Submitted to: Complete Book
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/24/2001
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: Interpretive Summary:
Technical Abstract: The American public appears to have limited appreciation for the importance of agriculture, which provides them food and a wide variety of other benefits. A public disconnected with agriculture is particularly problematic for alfalfa, which is two steps removed from the dinner plate, but is quite important for human nutrition and environmental quality. About t23 million acres of alfalfa are raised in the USA. Alfalfa plus other hay is the third crop in value in the USA, behind only corn and soybeans. California is the nation's leading producer of alfalfa hay, but the crop has come under increased criticism. Very few people recognize the important role alfalfa plays in their lives in the form of milk, cheese pizza, ice cream, honey, leather, or wool sweaters. Fewer still recognize the non- economic roles that alfalfa plays in maintaining a healthy environment. In this publication, we relate alfalfa's roles in agriculture and the environment. Our goal is to help readers become more familiar with alfalfa's importance as a crop and its contributions to broader social goals. Alfalfa provides significant habitat to a wide range of wildlife, including numerous beneficial insects, and provides aesthetic value to the landscape. It does not need to be fertilized with nitrogen, which saves money and energy. It improves yields and reduces nitrogen fertilizer needs of subsequent crops. Alfalfa also helps prevent and remediate soil and water contamination. Although high yields of alfalfa require large amounts of water, its water use efficiency is higher than many other crops. Alfalfa's many end-uses, such as cheese making and pizza marketing, are worth billions of dollars more than the value of the crop itself, but they all begin with the production of this important crop.