Alfalfa

Alfalfa

Overview
Alfalfa is a flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae
Fabaceae
The Fabaceae or Leguminosae, commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family, is a large and economically important family of flowering plants. The group is the third largest land plant family, behind only the Orchidaceae and Asteraceae, with 730 genera and over 19,400 species...

 cultivated as an important forage
Forage
Forage is plant material eaten by grazing livestock.Historically the term forage has meant only plants eaten by the animals directly as pasture, crop residue, or immature cereal crops, but it is also used more loosely to include similar plants cut for fodder and carried to the animals, especially...

 crop in the US, Canada, Argentina, France, Australia, the Middle East, South Africa, and many other countries. It is known as lucerne in the UK, France, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and known as lucerne grass in south Asia. It superficially resembles clover
Clover
Clover , or trefoil, is a genus of about 300 species of plants in the leguminous pea family Fabaceae. The genus has a cosmopolitan distribution; the highest diversity is found in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, but many species also occur in South America and Africa, including at high altitudes...

, with clusters of small purple flowers.

Alfalfa is a perennial forage legume which normally lives 4–8 years, but can live more than twenty years, depending on variety and climate
Climate
Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods...

.
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Encyclopedia
Alfalfa is a flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae
Fabaceae
The Fabaceae or Leguminosae, commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family, is a large and economically important family of flowering plants. The group is the third largest land plant family, behind only the Orchidaceae and Asteraceae, with 730 genera and over 19,400 species...

 cultivated as an important forage
Forage
Forage is plant material eaten by grazing livestock.Historically the term forage has meant only plants eaten by the animals directly as pasture, crop residue, or immature cereal crops, but it is also used more loosely to include similar plants cut for fodder and carried to the animals, especially...

 crop in the US, Canada, Argentina, France, Australia, the Middle East, South Africa, and many other countries. It is known as lucerne in the UK, France, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and known as lucerne grass in south Asia. It superficially resembles clover
Clover
Clover , or trefoil, is a genus of about 300 species of plants in the leguminous pea family Fabaceae. The genus has a cosmopolitan distribution; the highest diversity is found in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, but many species also occur in South America and Africa, including at high altitudes...

, with clusters of small purple flowers.

Ecology


Alfalfa is a perennial forage legume which normally lives 4–8 years, but can live more than twenty years, depending on variety and climate
Climate
Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods...

. The plant grows to a height of up to 1 metres (3 ft), and has a deep root
Root
In vascular plants, the root is the organ of a plant that typically lies below the surface of the soil. This is not always the case, however, since a root can also be aerial or aerating . Furthermore, a stem normally occurring below ground is not exceptional either...

 system, sometimes stretching more than 15 metres (49 ft). This makes it very resilient, especially to droughts. It has a tetraploid genome
Genome
In modern molecular biology and genetics, the genome is the entirety of an organism's hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of virus, in RNA. The genome includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA/RNA....

.

Alfalfa is a small seeded crop, and has a slowly-growing seedling, but after several months of establishment, forms a tough 'crown' at the top of the root system. This crown contains many shoot buds that enables alfalfa to re-grow many times after being grazed or harvested.

This plant exhibits autotoxicity
Autotoxicity
Autotoxicity is a form of allelopathy in which a species inhibits growth or reproduction of members of that same species through the production of chemicals that are released into the environment....

, which means it is difficult for alfalfa seed to grow in existing stands of alfalfa. Therefore, it is recommended that alfalfa fields be rotated
Crop rotation
Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons.Crop rotation confers various benefits to the soil. A traditional element of crop rotation is the replenishment of nitrogen through the use of green manure in sequence with cereals...

 with other species (for example, corn
Maize
Maize known in many English-speaking countries as corn or mielie/mealie, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears which contain seeds called kernels. Though technically a grain, maize kernels are used in cooking as a vegetable...

 or wheat) before reseeding.

Culture


Alfalfa is widely grown throughout the world as forage for cattle, and is most often harvested as hay
Hay
Hay is grass, legumes or other herbaceous plants that have been cut, dried, and stored for use as animal fodder, particularly for grazing livestock such as cattle, horses, goats, and sheep. Hay is also fed to pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs...

, but can also be made into silage
Silage
Silage is fermented, high-moisture fodder that can be fed to ruminants or used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters. It is fermented and stored in a process called ensiling or silaging, and is usually made from grass crops, including corn , sorghum or other cereals, using the entire...

, grazed, or fed as greenchop. Alfalfa usually has the highest feeding value of all common hay crops. It is used less frequently as pasture
Pasture
Pasture is land used for grazing. Pasture lands in the narrow sense are enclosed tracts of farmland, grazed by domesticated livestock, such as horses, cattle, sheep or swine. The vegetation of tended pasture, forage, consists mainly of grasses, with an interspersion of legumes and other forbs...

. When grown on soils where it is well-adapted, alfalfa is often the highest yielding forage plant, but its primary benefit is the combination of high yield per hectare and high nutritional quality.

Its primary use is as feed for high producing dairy cows—because of its high protein content and highly digestible fiber—and secondarily for beef cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. Humans also eat alfalfa sprouts
Sprouting
Sprouting is the practice of germinating seeds to be eaten either raw or cooked.They are a convenient way to have fresh vegetables for salads, or otherwise, in any season and can be germinated at home or produced industrially...

 in salads and sandwiches. Dehydrated alfalfa leaf is commercially available as a dietary supplement
Dietary supplement
A dietary supplement, also known as food supplement or nutritional supplement, is a preparation intended to supplement the diet and provide nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, fatty acids, or amino acids, that may be missing or may not be consumed in sufficient quantities in a person's diet...

 in several forms, such as tablets, powders and tea. Alfalfa is believed by some to be a galactagogue
Galactagogue
A galactagogue is a substance that promotes lactation in humans and other animals. It may be synthetic, plant-derived, or endogenous.-Herbal:The most commonly cited galactagogues are herbal...

, a substance that induces lactation
Lactation
Lactation describes the secretion of milk from the mammary glands and the period of time that a mother lactates to feed her young. The process occurs in all female mammals, however it predates mammals. In humans the process of feeding milk is called breastfeeding or nursing...

. Alfalfa can cause bloating in livestock, care must be taken with livestock grazing on alfalfa because of its high bloat hazard.

Like other legumes, its root nodules contain bacteria, Sinorhizobium meliloti
Sinorhizobium meliloti
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a Gram-negative nitrogen-fixing bacterium . It forms a symbiotic relationship with legumes from the genera Medicago, Melilotus and Trigonella, including the model legume Medicago truncatula. This symbiosis results in a new plant organ termed a root nodule. The S...

, with the ability to fix nitrogen
Nitrogen fixation
Nitrogen fixation is the natural process, either biological or abiotic, by which nitrogen in the atmosphere is converted into ammonia . This process is essential for life because fixed nitrogen is required to biosynthesize the basic building blocks of life, e.g., nucleotides for DNA and RNA and...

, producing a high-protein feed regardless of available nitrogen in the soil
Soil
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

. Its nitrogen-fixing abilities (which increases soil nitrogen) and its use as an animal feed greatly improved agricultural efficiency.

Alfalfa can be sown in spring or fall, and does best on well-drained soils with a neutral pH
PH
In chemistry, pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution. Pure water is said to be neutral, with a pH close to 7.0 at . Solutions with a pH less than 7 are said to be acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline...

 of 6.8 – 7.5. Alfalfa requires sustained levels of potassium
Potassium
Potassium is the chemical element with the symbol K and atomic number 19. Elemental potassium is a soft silvery-white alkali metal that oxidizes rapidly in air and is very reactive with water, generating sufficient heat to ignite the hydrogen emitted in the reaction.Potassium and sodium are...

 and phosphorus
Phosphorus
Phosphorus is the chemical element that has the symbol P and atomic number 15. A multivalent nonmetal of the nitrogen group, phosphorus as a mineral is almost always present in its maximally oxidized state, as inorganic phosphate rocks...

 to grow well. It is moderately sensitive to salt levels in both the soil and in irrigation water, although it continues to be grown in the arid southwestern United States, where salinity is an emerging issue. Soils low in fertility should be fertilized with manure
Manure
Manure is organic matter used as organic fertilizer in agriculture. Manures contribute to the fertility of the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients, such as nitrogen, that are trapped by bacteria in the soil...

 or a chemical fertilizer, but correction of pH is particularly important. Usually a seeding rate of 13 – 20 kg/hectare (12 – 25 lb/acre) is recommended, with differences based upon region, soil type, and seeding method. A nurse crop
Nurse crop
In agriculture, a nurse crop is an annual crop used to assist in establishment of a perennial crop. The widest use of nurse crops is in the establishment of legumaceous plants such as alfalfa, clover, and trefoil...

 is sometimes used, particularly for spring plantings, to reduce weed problems and soil erosion, but can lead to competition for light, water and nutrients.

In most climates, alfalfa is cut three to four times a year, but it can be harvested up to 12 times per year in Arizona and southern California. Total yields are typically around 8 tonnes per hectare (4 short tons per acre) in temperate environments, but yields have been recorded up to 20 t/ha (16 short tons per acre). Yields vary with region, weather, and the crop's stage of maturity when cut. Later cuttings improve yield, but with reduced nutritional content.

Alfalfa is considered an insectary due to the large number of insects it attracts. Some pests, such as alfalfa weevil, aphids, armyworms, and the potato leafhopper
Leafhopper
Leafhopper is a common name applied to any species from the family Cicadellidae. Leafhoppers, colloquially known as hoppers, are minute plant-feeding insects in the superfamily Membracoidea in the order Hemiptera...

, can reduce alfalfa yields dramatically, particularly with the second cutting when weather is warmest. Chemical controls are sometimes used to prevent this. Alfalfa is also susceptible to root rots, including Phytophthora
Phytophthora
Phytophthora is a genus of plant-damaging Oomycetes , whose member species are capable of causing enormous economic losses on crops worldwide, as well as environmental damage in natural ecosystems. The genus was first described by Heinrich Anton de Bary in 1875...

, Rhizoctonia
Rhizoctonia
Rhizoctonia is a genus of anamorphic fungi in the order Cantharellales. Species do not produce spores, but are composed of hyphae and sclerotia and are asexual states of fungi in the genus Thanatephorus. Rhizoctonia species are saprotrophic, but are also facultative plant pathogens, causing...

, and Texas root rot
Texas root rot
Texas root rot is apathogen fairly common in Mexico and the southwesternUnited States that causes sudden wilt and death of...

.

Harvesting




When alfalfa is to be used as hay
Hay
Hay is grass, legumes or other herbaceous plants that have been cut, dried, and stored for use as animal fodder, particularly for grazing livestock such as cattle, horses, goats, and sheep. Hay is also fed to pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs...

, it is usually cut and baled. Loose haystacks are still used in some areas, but bales are easier for use in transportation, storage and feed. Ideally, the first cutting should be taken at the bud stage, and the subsequent cuttings just as the field is beginning to flower, or one tenth bloom for the reason that carbohydrates are at their highest. When using farm equipment rather than hand-harvesting, a swather
Swather
A swather, or windrower, is a farm implement that cuts hay or small grain crops and forms them into a windrow. "Swather" is predominantly the North American term for these machines...

 cuts the alfalfa and arranges it in windrow
Windrow
A windrow is a row of cut hay or small grain crop. It is allowed to dry before being baled, combined, or rolled. For hay, the windrow is often formed by a hay rake, which rakes hay that has been cut by a mower machine or by scythe into a row, or it may naturally form as the hay is mowed...

s. In areas where the alfalfa does not immediately dry out on its own, a machine known as a mower-conditioner is used to cut the hay. The mower-conditioner has a set of rollers or flails that crimp and break the stems as they pass through the mower, making the alfalfa dry faster. After the alfalfa has dried, a tractor
Tractor
A tractor is a vehicle specifically designed to deliver a high tractive effort at slow speeds, for the purposes of hauling a trailer or machinery used in agriculture or construction...

 pulling a baler
Baler
A baler is a piece of farm machinery used to compress a cut and raked crop into compact bales that are easy to handle, transport and store...

 collects the hay into bales.

There are several types of bales commonly used for alfalfa. For small animals and individual horses, the alfalfa is baled into small two-string bales, commonly named by the strands of string used to wrap it. Other bale sizes are three-string, and so on up to half-ton (six-string) "square" bales – actually rectangular, and typically about 40 x 45 x 100 cm (14 in x 18 in x 38 in). Small square bales weigh from 25 – 30 kg (50 – 70 pounds) depending on moisture, and can be easily hand separated into "flakes". Cattle ranches use large round bales, typically 1.4 to 1.8 m (4 to 6 feet) in diameter and weighing from 500 to 1,000 kg, (1000 to 2000 lbs). These bales can be placed in stable stacks or in large feeders for herds of horses, or unrolled on the ground for large herds of cattle. The bales can be loaded and stacked with a tractor
Tractor
A tractor is a vehicle specifically designed to deliver a high tractive effort at slow speeds, for the purposes of hauling a trailer or machinery used in agriculture or construction...

 using a spike, known as a bale spear, that pierces the center of the bale, or they can be handled with a grapple (claw) on the tractor
Tractor
A tractor is a vehicle specifically designed to deliver a high tractive effort at slow speeds, for the purposes of hauling a trailer or machinery used in agriculture or construction...

's front-end loader. A more recent innovation is large "square" bales, roughly the same proportions as the small squares, but much larger. The bale size was set so stacks would fit perfectly on a large flatbed truck. These are more common in the western United States.

When used as feed for dairy cattle, alfalfa is often made into haylage by a process known as ensiling
Ensilage
Ensilage or silaging is the process of preserving green food for livestock in an undried condition in airtight conditions, either in a storage silo , or in plastic wrapping. The fodder which is the result of the process is called silage....

. Rather than drying it to make dry hay, the alfalfa is chopped finely and fermented in silo
Silo
A silo is a structure for storing bulk materials.Silo may also refer to:* Silo , a 3D modeling software* Silo , a defunct chain of retail electronics stores* SILO , used in Linux...

s, trenches, or bags, anywhere the oxygen supply can be limited to promote fermentation
Fermentation (food)
Fermentation in food processing typically is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria, or a combination thereof, under anaerobic conditions. Fermentation in simple terms is the chemical conversion of sugars into ethanol...

. The anaerobic fermentation of alfalfa allows it to retain high nutrient levels similar to those of fresh forage, and is also more palatable to dairy cattle than dry hay. In many cases, alfalfa silage is inoculated with different strains of microorganisms to improve the fermentation quality and aerobic stability of the silage.

Worldwide production



Alfalfa is the most cultivated forage legume in the world. Worldwide production was around 436 million tons in 2006. The US is the largest alfalfa producer in the world, but considerable production is found in Canada, Argentina (primarily grazed), Southern Europe, Australia, South Africa, and the Middle East..

Within the United States, the leading alfalfa growing states are California, South Dakota
South Dakota
South Dakota is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States. It is named after the Lakota and Dakota Sioux American Indian tribes. Once a part of Dakota Territory, South Dakota became a state on November 2, 1889. The state has an area of and an estimated population of just over...

, and Wisconsin
Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a U.S. state located in the north-central United States and is part of the Midwest. It is bordered by Minnesota to the west, Iowa to the southwest, Illinois to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, Michigan to the northeast, and Lake Superior to the north. Wisconsin's capital is...

. The upper Midwestern states account for about 50% of US production, the Northeastern states 10%, the Western states 40%, and the Southeastern states almost none. Alfalfa can be grown in the southern US states, but often leaf and root diseases and poor soils are limitations. Alfalfa has a wide range of adaptation, and can be grown from very cold northern plains to high mountain valleys, from rich temperate agricultural regions to Mediterranean climates and searing hot deserts.

Alfalfa and bees


Alfalfa seed production requires the presence of pollinator
Pollinator
A pollinator is the biotic agent that moves pollen from the male anthers of a flower to the female stigma of a flower to accomplish fertilization or syngamy of the female gamete in the ovule of the flower by the male gamete from the pollen grain...

s when the fields of alfalfa are in bloom. Alfalfa pollination
Pollination
Pollination is the process by which pollen is transferred in plants, thereby enabling fertilisation and sexual reproduction. Pollen grains transport the male gametes to where the female gamete are contained within the carpel; in gymnosperms the pollen is directly applied to the ovule itself...

 is somewhat problematic, however, because Western honey bees, the most commonly used pollinator, are not suitable for this purpose; the pollen-carrying keel
Petal
Petals are modified leaves that surround the reproductive parts of flowers. They often are brightly colored or unusually shaped to attract pollinators. Together, all of the petals of a flower are called a corolla. Petals are usually accompanied by another set of special leaves called sepals lying...

 of the alfalfa flower trips and strikes pollinating bees on the head, which helps transfer the pollen
Pollen
Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes . Pollen grains have a hard coat that protects the sperm cells during the process of their movement from the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants or from the male cone to the...

 to the foraging bee
Bee
Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants, and are known for their role in pollination and for producing honey and beeswax. Bees are a monophyletic lineage within the superfamily Apoidea, presently classified by the unranked taxon name Anthophila...

. Western honey bees, however, do not like being struck in the head repeatedly and learn to defeat this action by drawing
Nectar robbing
Nectar robbing refers to the act by an animal, typically an insect or a bird, of removing nectar from a flowering plant, most often by drilling a hole in the corolla. In this way animals without morphological adaptations required by the structure of the flower may access nectar...

 nectar
Nectar (plant)
Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid produced by plants. It is produced in glands called nectaries, either within the flowers, in which it attracts pollinating animals, or by extrafloral nectaries, which provide a nutrient source to animal mutualists, which in turn provide anti-herbivore protection...

 from the side of the flower. The bees thus collect the nectar, but carry no pollen and so do not pollinate the next flower they visit. Because older, experienced bees do not pollinate alfalfa well, most pollination is accomplished by young bees that have not yet learned the trick of robbing the flower without tripping the head-knocking keel. When western honey bees are used to pollinate alfalfa, the beekeeper stocks the field at a very high rate
Saturation pollination
Saturation pollination is a pollination technique for agricultural crops in areas dominated by non-crop plant species that are preferred by pollinators. The technique involves keeping a larger number of bee colonies than normally maintained for honey production so as to exhaust the preferred plants...

 to maximize the number of young bees.
Western honey bee colonies may suffer protein stress when working alfalfa only, due to shortage of one of the amino-acids comprising the pollen protein, iso-leucine.
Today, the alfalfa leafcutter bee
Alfalfa leafcutter bee
Megachile rotundata, the alfalfa leafcutter bee or lucerne leafcutter bee is a European bee that has been introduced to other regions...

 is increasingly used to circumvent these problems. As a solitary but gregarious bee species, it does not build colonies or store honey, but is a very efficient pollinator of alfalfa flowers. Nesting is in individual tunnels in wooden or plastic material, supplied by the alfalfa seed growers. The leafcutter bees are used in the Pacific Northwest, while western honeybees dominate in California alfalfa seed production.

A smaller amount of alfalfa produced for seed is pollinated by the alkali bee
Alkali bee
The alkali bee, Nomia melanderi, is a ground-nesting bee native to deserts and semi-arid desert basins of the western United States.It is an effective pollinator for alfalfa....

, mostly in the northwestern United States. It is cultured in special beds near the fields. These bees also have their own problems. They are not portable like honey bees, and when fields are planted in new areas, the bees take several seasons to build up. Honey bees are still trucked to many of the fields at bloom time.

Varieties



Considerable research and development has been done with this important plant. Older cultivars such as 'Vernal' have been the standard for years, but many better public and private varieties better adapted to particular climates are available. Private companies release many new varieties each year in the US.

Most varieties go dormant in the fall, with reduced growth in response to low temperatures and shorter days. 'Nondormant' varieties that grow through the winter are planted in long-seasoned environments such as Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California, whereas 'dormant' varieties are planted in the Upper Midwest, Canada, and the Northeast. 'Nondormant' varieties can be higher yielding, but they are susceptible to winter-kill in cold climates and have poorer persistence.

Most alfalfa cultivars contain genetic material from sickle medick (M. falcata
Medicago falcata
Medicago falcata is a plant species of the genus Medicago. It is native to the Mediterranean basin, but is found throughout the world. It forms a symbiotic relationship with the bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti, which is capable of nitrogen fixation...

), a wild variety of alfalfa that naturally hybridizes with M. sativa to produce sand lucerne (M. sativa ssp. varia). This species may bear either the purple flowers of alfalfa or the yellow of sickle medick, and is so called for its ready growth in sandy soil.

Most of the improvements in alfalfa over the last decades have consisted of better disease resistance on poorly drained soils in wet years, better ability to overwinter in cold climates, and the production of more leaves. Multileaf alfalfa varieties have more than three leaflets per leaf, giving them greater nutritional content by weight because there is more leafy matter for the same amount of stem.

Wisconsin and California and many other states publish alfalfa variety trial data. A complete listing of state variety testing data is provided by the North American Alfalfa Improvement Conference (NAAIC) State Listing as well as additional detailed alfalfa genetic and variety data published by NAAIC.

Genetically modified alfalfa


Roundup Ready alfalfa, a genetically modified variety was released by Forage Genetics Int'l in 2005. This was developed through the insertion of a gene owned by Monsanto Company that confers resistance to glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide, also known as Roundup. Although most grassy and broadleaf plants, including ordinary alfalfa, are killed by Roundup, growers can spray fields of Roundup Ready alfalfa with the glyphosate herbicide and kill the weeds without harming the alfalfa crop.

Legal issues with Roundup Ready Alfalfa in the US


Roundup Ready alfalfa was sold in the United States from 2005–2007 with more than 300000 acres (121,405.8 ha) planted out of 21000000 acres (8,498,406 ha). After a hiatus of nearly 4 years of legal and regulatory troubles, planting resumed in February 2011. In 2006, the Center for Food Safety and Geertson Seed Farm sued USDA-APHIS to stop farmers from growing Roundup Ready Alfalfa. Their primary claim was 1) the possibility of increased spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and 2) the possibility that gene flow from Roundup Ready alfalfa would harm organic or conventional growers. In early 2007, The 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco decided in favor of the plaintiffs, forcing USDA-APHIS to conduct an Environmental Impact Study—this study took four years and was completed in December 2010. At the same time, the California Northern District Court
United States District Court for the Northern District of California
The United States District Court for the Northern District of California is the federal United States district court whose jurisdiction comprises following counties of California: Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San...

 also issued an injunction order prohibiting farmers from planting Roundup Ready alfalfa until the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) completed its EIS study. As a result, the USDA put a hold on any further planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa from 2007–2011.

Monsanto subsequently sued Geertson Seed, a case that went to the US Supreme Court in 2010, and decided in favor of Monsanto (Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms
Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms
Monsanto Co. vs. Geertson Seed Farms is a U.S. Supreme Court case decided 7-1 in which several groups including Geertson Seed Farms filed suit and challenged the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on their decision to completely deregulate Roundup Ready Alfalfa , a genetically...

). In June 2010, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling on this matter in favor of Monsanto, and determined that the 9th Circuit should not have prohibited further plantings, but should have allowed USDA-APHIS to determine the safety of the technology. Both sides claimed victory.

The final Environmental Impact Statement was issued by APHIS in December 2010, which found Roundup Ready Alfalfa to be safe for the environment. After a comment period, the crop was completely deregulated in January 2011 and planting resumed in February 2011. APHIS issued its lengthy EIS document and considered the gene flow issue, impacts on organic growers, the issue of Roundup-resistant weeds and host of other questions. In the end, it was determined that Roundup-ready did not present a risk to the environment (APHIS). A new lawsuit by the Center for Food Safety (and others) to stop further development of Roundup Ready alfalfa was filed against USDA-APHIS in March 2011.

History


A book on agriculture by the Roman writer Palladius
Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus Palladius
Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus Palladius, also known as Palladius Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus or just Palladius, was a Roman writer of the 4th century AD. He is principally known for his book on agriculture, Opus agriculturae, sometimes known as De re rustica.-Opus agriculturae:The Opus agriculturae is...

, dated 4th century AD, includes a section about alfalfa. Palladius says: "One sow-down lasts ten years. The crop may be cut four or six times a year.... An [Roman] acre of it is abundantly sufficient for three horses all the year.... It may be given to cattle, but new provender is at first to be administered very sparingly, because it bloats up the cattle." Palladius called alfalfa "medica", a name that referred to the Medes
Medes
The MedesThe Medes...

, a people who lived in ancient Iran. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed, very probably correctly, that the alfalfa plant came from the Medes land (in today's Iran). (The ancient Greeks and Romans also used the name medica to mean a citron
Citron
Not to be confused with Cintron.The citron is a fragrant citrus fruit, botanically classified as Citrus medica by both the Swingle and Tanaka systems...

 fruit, once again because it was believed to have come from the Medes land). The ancient Roman name medica is the root of the modern scientific name for the alfalfa genus, Medicago. Despite the report in Palladius and in some other Roman and ancient Greek writers, there is little evidence that alfalfa was in widespread use in the Mediterranean region in those days.

The 13th century Arabic dictionary Lisan al-Arab says that "al-fiṣfiṣa" (alfalfa) is cultivated as an animal feed and consumed in both fresh and dried form. In medieval Spain, the Arabic name "al-fisfisa" mutated into the Spanish name "alfalfa". Alfalfa in medieval Spain was cultivated as fodder for horses and had a reputation as the best fodder for them. In the 16th century, Spanish colonizers introduced alfalfa to the Americas as fodder for their horses. The English name "alfalfa" dates from mid-19th century far-west USA, from the Spanish. Alfalfa seeds were imported to California from Chile in the 1850s. That was the beginning of a rapid and extensive introduction of the crop over the western US States. In the North American colonies of the eastern US back in the 18th century it was called "lucerne" and lots of trials at growing it were made, but generally without getting satisfactory results. Relatively very little alfalfa is grown in the eastern US still today. Today in France and Germany, and also in Britain and Australia, alfalfa is usually called "lucerne" | "luzerne", a word that arose in French in the 16th century. Since North and South America now produce a large part of the world's output, the word "alfalfa" has been slowly entering into other languages besides English and Spanish.

Phytoestrogens in alfalfa


Alfalfa, like other leguminous crops, is a known source of phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are plant-derived xenoestrogens functioning as the primary female sex hormone not generated within the endocrine system but consumed by eating phytoestrogonic plants...

, including spinosterol. Grazing on alfalfa has been suspected as a cause of reduced fertility
Fertility
Fertility is the natural capability of producing offsprings. As a measure, "fertility rate" is the number of children born per couple, person or population. Fertility differs from fecundity, which is defined as the potential for reproduction...

 in sheep.

Medical uses


Alfalfa has been used as an herbal medicine for over 1,500 years. Alfalfa is high in protein
Protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

, calcium
Calcium
Calcium is the chemical element with the symbol Ca and atomic number 20. It has an atomic mass of 40.078 amu. Calcium is a soft gray alkaline earth metal, and is the fifth-most-abundant element by mass in the Earth's crust...

, plus other minerals, vitamins in the B group, vitamin C
Vitamin C
Vitamin C or L-ascorbic acid or L-ascorbate is an essential nutrient for humans and certain other animal species. In living organisms ascorbate acts as an antioxidant by protecting the body against oxidative stress...

, vitamin D
Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids. In humans, vitamin D is unique both because it functions as a prohormone and because the body can synthesize it when sun exposure is adequate ....

, vitamin E
Vitamin E
Vitamin E is used to refer to a group of fat-soluble compounds that include both tocopherols and tocotrienols. There are many different forms of vitamin E, of which γ-tocopherol is the most common in the North American diet. γ-Tocopherol can be found in corn oil, soybean oil, margarine and dressings...

, and vitamin K
Vitamin K
Vitamin K is a group of structurally similar, fat soluble vitamins that are needed for the posttranslational modification of certain proteins required for blood coagulation and in metabolic pathways in bone and other tissue. They are 2-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone derivatives...

.

In early Chinese medicines, physicians used young alfalfa leaves to treat disorders
Disease
A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It is often construed to be a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by external factors, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune...

 related to the digestive tract and the kidney
Kidney
The kidneys, organs with several functions, serve essential regulatory roles in most animals, including vertebrates and some invertebrates. They are essential in the urinary system and also serve homeostatic functions such as the regulation of electrolytes, maintenance of acid–base balance, and...

s. In Ayurvedic medicine, physicians used the leaves for treating poor digestion
Digestion
Digestion is the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food into smaller components that are more easily absorbed into a blood stream, for instance. Digestion is a form of catabolism: a breakdown of large food molecules to smaller ones....

. They made a cooling poultice
Poultice
A poultice, also called cataplasm, is a soft moist mass, often heated and medicated, that is spread on cloth over the skin to treat an aching, inflamed, or painful part of the body. It can be used on wounds such as cuts...

 from the seed
Seed
A seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering called the seed coat, usually with some stored food. It is the product of the ripened ovule of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants which occurs after fertilization and some growth within the mother plant...

s for boil
Boil
A boil, also called a furuncle, is a deep folliculitis, infection of the hair follicle. It is always caused by infection by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, resulting in a painful swollen area on the skin caused by an accumulation of pus and dead tissue...

s. At the time, alfalfa was also believed to be beneficial to people suffering from arthritis
Arthritis
Arthritis is a form of joint disorder that involves inflammation of one or more joints....

 and water retention
Water retention (medicine)
The term water retention signifies an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the circulatory system or within the tissues or cavities of the body.Water is found both inside and outside the body’s cells...

.

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