Improving alfalfa cultivars

An increasing number of bermudagrass growers across the Southeast have been incorporating alfalfa into suppressed or closely clipped bermudagrass pastures. Studies evaluating the sustainability of the production of alfalfa interseeded in bermudagrass showed that alfalfa competes well with bermudagrass, even in drought conditions. The major challenges to alfalfa production in the Southeast are low pH soils and aluminum (Al) toxicity. UGA crop and soil scientists are focusing the forage breeding program to direct field evaluation and selection in low pH and high Al soils. The successful completion of this project will enable expanding the adoption of alfalfa in Georgia and the Southeast. With the shrinking acreage of alfalfa in California and the western US due to competition from almond hulls and water shortages, the southeast offers the biggest opportunity for expanding alfalfa acreage nationally, whether as a pure crop or as a companion in bermudagrass pastures and hayfields. Alfalfa offers producers a significant profit potential through selling hay, or by grazing or conserving the surplus as haylage. Improving alfalfa cultivars for tolerance to low pH soils and aluminum toxicity would have a great impact on the sustainability of livestock operations in the Southeast. Based on the bermudagrass acreage in the region, there is a potential of over 20 million acres for the production of alfalfa as a companion crop across the Southeast.