Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Dairy Forage Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #223763


item Martin, Neal
item Mertens, David
item Hatfield, Ronald
item Jung, Hans Joachim

Submitted to: Symposium Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/18/2008
Publication Date: 2/21/2008
Publication URL:
Citation: Martin, N.P., Mertens, D.R., Hatfield, R.D., Jung, H.J. 2008. Alfalfa: forage crop of the future. In: Proceedings of the 28th Kentucky Alfalfa Conference, February 21, 2008, Cave City, Kentucky, p. 17-26.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Alfalfa hay and silage support dairy, beef, sheep, and horse production in the U.S., as well as a growing export market. Alfalfa is relatively low in fiber and high in protein compared to other forages and typically results in high intakes and levels of milk production. In addition to its excellent nutritional properties, crop rotations utilizing alfalfa have a positive environmental impact; stabilizing soils, decreasing nutrient inputs, and increasing wildlife habitat. The major disadvantages of alfalfa are low yields when compared to corn silage and the need for multiple harvests. Alfalfa use by dairy cattle has decreased in recent years because of excessive non-protein nitrogen in silage and low extent of fiber digestibility. Ideal attributes for plant modification of alfalfa may include a aNDF of 40% (DM basis). It would be desirable to have 18% crude protein, less ash, and about 30% NFC. It would be beneficial to have a better balance of amino acids in protein with a slower rate of degradation in the silo or rumen to minimize its losses as ammonia. Increasing fat to 4% is potentially energetically advantageous. Progress in attaining and testing these attributes will accelerate with the use of biotechnology. Livestock and hay enterprises will benefit from alfalfa that is less prone to contain mycotoxins or toxic weeds, or to induce bloat; have improved nutrient utilization for milk and meat production; and produce less animal wastes, resulting in improved efficiency, profitability, and a better environment. Research into improving biomass yield and conversion of biomass to liquid fuel via fermentation or gasification can generate new products and expanded acreage.