Last year, the fourth cutting from one of John Miller's alfalfa fields yielded at least as much as the first.
With 80 Holsteins and just 65 acres, this Strasburg, PA, dairy farmer needed more forage. So shortly after the first cutting in May, he interseeded ½ bu/acre of a sorghum-sudangrass hybrid with a no-till drill.
By the time the alfalfa was ready for the second cutting, the sorghum-sudan had emerged but wasn't tall enough to be clipped by the mower. At the third cutting, it was several inches higher than the cutter bar, but not enough to make much difference in yield.
By the fourth cutting, just before Labor Day, the sorghum-sudan towered over the alfalfa by a couple of feet. The swaths were so thick that there was no hope of drying the forage for hay. So Miller made bale silage after several days of field drying.
The added crop didn't noticeably thin the five-year-old alfalfa stand, says Miller. Feed quality was okay, too. The mostly sorghum-sudan silage tested 37% ADF, 56% NDF and 16.9% protein. He says it's an ideal feed for replacement heifers, and production didn't drop when he fed it to his lactating cows.
Miller plans to do it again in 2002. And last fall he no-tilled winter wheat into the field to boost first-cutting yield this spring.
Farmers in France may soon be growing alfalfa to produce human hemoglobin.
Viridis, a subsidiary of Alfalis, which specializes in alfalfa production, hopes to begin manufacturing various proteins, especially hemoglobin.
“Alfalfa is a true protein factory,” says Damien Levesque, Viridis' managing director. “It is the plant that can produce the largest quantity of proteins per acre — far ahead of soybeans. Alfalfa produces 2,200 lbs of protein per acre, compared with 650 to 890 lbs for soybeans.”
His company specializes in the extraction of alfalfa juice for pigments and other products.
“The special characteristic of alfalfa is storing the proteins in the leaves and not in the seeds like soybeans or peas,” says Levesque. “Extraction is therefore carried out by pressing the green foliage in order to recover proteins in the alfalfa juice without altering its quality. We have developed a specific technology for pressing.”
Viridis has acquired Medicago, a Quebec biotechnology company that successfully introduced the gene for hemoglobin production in alfalfa plants.