Submitted to: Forage Focus
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/7/2014
Publication Date: 8/20/2014
Citation: Samac, D.A. 2014. Science from the field to your shopping cart. Forage Focus. August 2014. p. 6-7.
Technical Abstract: Today the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the in-house research division of USDA, has 2,100 scientists and 6,000 support personnel in over 90 locations throughout the US. The research done by ARS affects everyone in the country every day of the year. ARS research has gone into practically every item in a typical shopping cart. Research on alfalfa and other forages is carried out in National Program 215: Pasture, Forage and Rangeland Systems. In total, 20 scientists are involved in alfalfa research in Minnesota (Saint Paul), Wisconsin (Madison, Prairie du Sac, Marshfield), Maryland (Beltsville), Utah (Logan), Washington (Prosser, Pullman), Illinois (Peoria), and Iowa (Ames). There is a long history of alfalfa improvement in ARS. In the 1970s and 1980s, ARS scientists were leaders in identifying microorganisms causing major alfalfa diseases, developing methods to select for resistant plants, and releasing disease resistant germplasm for use by the alfalfa seed industry. Research also focused on novel traits for enhanced nitrogen fixation and assimilation. More recently, a high yielding biomass type alfalfa was developed with non-lodging stems, which has the potential to produce twice the ethanol than hay type alfalfa. Currently, the greatest research emphasis in the ARS alfalfa program is in development and use of DNA markers associated with agronomic traits including disease resistance, drought tolerance, salinity tolerance, and for morphological traits such as formation of rhizomes. New tools are being added to the breeder’s toolbox to accelerate cultivar development and increased understanding of the function of genes underpinning these traits. ARS scientists are also developing novel harvesting and storage technologies to enhance alfalfa feed quality and develop new products. These harvesting methods have the advantage of reducing the number of harvests, reducing labor, increasing harvest flexibility, and increasing the functionality and value of the harvested forage. ARS scientists have been at the forefront of documenting the environmental and agronomic benefits of alfalfa cultivation. Current research focuses on developing and evaluating farming systems that strategically incorporate alfalfa on the landscape to reduce impacts of row crops and livestock agriculture. The contributions of ARS scientists to alfalfa research will guarantee that alfalfa producers have the knowledge and cultivars for 21st century farms and markets.