- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Good news for dairy cows. Science has found a way to produce alfalfa with less lignin, a component of the plant that has no nutritional value. The new alfalfa variety – genetically modified in a way that puts brakes on the lignin-producing gene – was deregulated by USDA in November.
“In general, a reduced lignin trait in alfalfa is very welcome,” said Dan Putnam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. “The low-lignin trait has some interesting potential implications for dairy cows and other ruminants, as well as for yield, agronomic...
Alfalfa farmers are on their second hay cutting in California’s Central Valley. Lush green fields are swathed with new generation rotary disk mowers that are nearly twice as fast as the conventional sickle mowers, cutting about 150 acres of alfalfa a day. Alfalfa hay fields are cut from four to ten times a season, averaging about seven tons per acre per year. It’s a profitable crop these days, with prices for high quality hay frequently reaching $250/ton.
But in addition to its over $1 billion value to the state of California, alfalfa provides a host of environmental benefits that are frequently overlooked. What are these benefits?
Benefits to the soil. In addition to being an important cash...
- Author: Rachael Freeman Long
- Author: Morgan Doran
In touring the back roads of California’s great Central Valley during wintertime, you may be surprised to come upon hundreds of sheep grazing alfalfa fields. The sheep are penned in by electric fences and graze the fields to near bare soil. Look closely and you may also see some Great Pyrenees dogs, used to guard the livestock from coyotes and other predators. The dogs blend in well with the sheep and it’s often fun to try to spot them in the mob.
You may wonder about this practice of ‘sheeping off’ or grazing alfalfa fields, as sheep are most associated with rangelands in the coastal foothills or the Sierras. Basque sheepherders have historically managed sheep grazing in the Sierra Nevada mountains,...
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
During the 2000s, organic milk production was one of the fastest growing segments of organic agriculture in the United States, according to a USDA Economic Research Service publication Characteristics, Costs, and Issues for Organic Dairy Farming. In 2008, about 3 percent of the nation's cows were managed organically.
Among the conditions necessary for a cow to produce organic milk, she must eat only organic feed or browse on organic pasture for at least the previous 36 months. However, dairy producers have found that producing or sourcing organic feed – which must be grown with no synthetic fertilizers, insecticides or herbicides – is...
- Author: Daniel H Putnam
Those of us who work with alfalfa have seen our much-loved Queen of Forages relegated to poster child of all things evil about genetic engineering (GE) and the supposed damage it may wreak. While hay growers have always felt alfalfa has received insufficient attention – this was probably not what they had in mind!
I’m referring, of course, to the release of Roundup Ready alfalfa (RRA) in 2005 and the subsequent lawsuit that stopped its planting from 2007 until 2011 – a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court!
The drama continues today with newly minted lawsuits, as farmers once again plant RRA and conventional alfalfa throughout the U.S. But what does this ballyhoo mean for those who actually grow...