Alfalfa

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Alfalfa
75 Medicago sativa L.jpg
Medicago sativa [1]
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Genus: Medicago
Section: M. sect. Medicago
Species:
M. sativa
Binomial name
Medicago sativa
Subspecies
  • M. sativa subsp. ambigua (Trautv.) Tutin
  • M. sativa subsp. microcarpa Urban
  • M. sativa subsp. sativa
  • M. sativa subsp. varia (T. Martyn) Arcang.
Synonyms [3]

Alfalfa ( /ælˈfælfə/ ), also called lucerne and called Medicago sativa in binomial nomenclature, is a perennial flowering plant in the legume family Fabaceae. It is cultivated as an important forage crop in many countries around the world. It is used for grazing, hay, and silage, as well as a green manure and cover crop. The name alfalfa is used in North America. The name lucerne is the more commonly used name in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. The plant superficially resembles clover (a cousin in the same family), especially while young, when trifoliate leaves comprising round leaflets predominate. Later in maturity, leaflets are elongated. It has clusters of small purple flowers followed by fruits spiralled in 2 to 3 turns containing 10–20 seeds. Alfalfa is native to warmer temperate climates. It has been cultivated as livestock fodder since at least the era of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Alfalfa sprouts are a common ingredient in dishes made in South Indian cuisine. [4]

Binomial nomenclature, also called binominal nomenclature or binary nomenclature, is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts, both of which use Latin grammatical forms, although they can be based on words from other languages. Such a name is called a binomial name, a binomen, binominal name or a scientific name; more informally it is also called a Latin name. The first part of the name – the generic name – identifies the genus to which the species belongs, while the second part – the specific name or specific epithet – identifies the species within the genus. For example, humans belong to the genus Homo and within this genus to the species Homo sapiens. Tyrannosaurus rex is probably the most widely known binomial. The formal introduction of this system of naming species is credited to Carl Linnaeus, effectively beginning with his work Species Plantarum in 1753. But Gaspard Bauhin, in as early as 1622, had introduced in his book Pinax theatri botanici many names of genera that were later adopted by Linnaeus.

Perennial plant Plant that lives for more than two years

A perennial plant or simply perennial is a plant that lives more than two years. Some sources cite perennial plants being plants that live more than three years. The term is often used to differentiate a plant from shorter-lived annuals and biennials. The term is also widely used to distinguish plants with little or no woody growth from trees and shrubs, which are also technically perennials.

Legume Plant in the family Fabaceae

A legume is a plant in the family Fabaceae, or the fruit or seed of such a plant. Legumes are grown agriculturally, primarily for human consumption, for livestock forage and silage, and as soil-enhancing green manure. Well-known legumes include alfalfa, clover, beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, lupins, mesquite, carob, soybeans, peanuts, and tamarind. Legumes produce a botanically unique type of fruit – a simple dry fruit that develops from a simple carpel and usually dehisces on two sides. A common name for this type of fruit is a pod, although the term "pod" is also applied to a number of other fruit types, such as that of vanilla and of the radish.

Contents

Etymology

The word alfalfa derived in 1845 from the Spanish word, alfalfez, and from Arabic, al-fisfisa, meaning "fresh fodder." [5]

History

Alfalfa seems to have originated in south-central Asia, and was first cultivated in ancient Iran. [6] [7] According to Pliny (died 79 AD), it was introduced to Greece in about 490 BC when the Persians invaded Greek territory. Alfalfa cultivation is discussed in the fourth-century AD book Opus Agriculturae by Palladius, stating: "One sow-down lasts ten years. The crop may be cut four or six times a year ... A jugerum 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." [8] Pliny and Palladius called alfalfa in Latin medica, a name that referred to the Medes, a people who lived in ancient Iran. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed, probably correctly, that alfalfa came from the Medes' land, in today's Iran. (The ancient Greeks and Romans also used the name medica to mean a citron fruit, once again because it was believed to have come from the Medes' land). This name is the root of the modern scientific name for the alfalfa genus, Medicago.

Pliny the Elder Roman military commander and writer

Pliny the Elder was a Roman author, a naturalist and natural philosopher, a naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and a friend of emperor Vespasian.

Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus Palladius, also known as Palladius Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus or most often just as Palladius, was an ancient writer who wrote in Latin, and is dated variously to the latter 4th century or first half of the 5th century AD. He is principally known for his book on agriculture, Opus agriculturae, sometimes known as De re rustica.

The jugerum or juger was a Roman unit of area, equivalent to a rectangle 240 Roman feet in length and 120 feet in width. This comprised 28,800 square feet or about ¼ hectare (0.623 acres).

In ancient India, Ayurvedic texts prescribe the use of Alfalfa seeds and sprouts for improving blood cell production and its leaves and stem as a good source of protein and minerals. [9]

Sprouting practice of germinating seeds to be eaten raw or cooked

Sprouting is the natural germination process by which seeds or spores put out shoots, plants produce new leaves or buds, or other newly developing parts experience further growth.

Blood cell cell produced by hematopoiesis

A blood cell, also called a hematopoietic cell, hemocyte, or hematocyte, is a cell produced through hematopoiesis and found mainly in the blood. Major types of blood cells include;

The medieval Arabic agricultural writer Ibn al-'Awwam, who lived in Spain in the later 12th century, discussed how to cultivate alfalfa, which he called الفصفصة (al-fiṣfiṣa). [10] A 13th-century general-purpose Arabic dictionary, Lisān al-'Arab , says that alfalfa is cultivated as an animal feed and consumed in both fresh and dried forms. [11] It is from the Arabic that the Spanish name alfalfa was derived. [12]

Ibn al-Awwam, also called Abu Zakariya Ibn al-Awwam, was an Andalusian Arab agriculturist who flourished at Seville in southern Spain in the later 12th century. He wrote a lengthy handbook on agriculture entitled in Arabic Kitāb al-Filāḥa, which is the most comprehensive treatment of the subject in medieval Arabic, and one of the most important medieval works on the subject in any language. It was published in Spanish and French translations in the 19th century. The edition in French is about 1350 pages.

In the 16th century, Spanish colonizers introduced alfalfa to the Americas as fodder for their horses. They were aware that alfalfa is better than grass as food for working horses (alfalfa had more energy).

In the North American colonies of the eastern US in the 18th century, it was called "lucerne", and many trials at growing it were made, but generally without sufficiently successful results. [7] Relatively little is grown in the southeastern United States today. [13] Lucerne (or luzerne) is the name for alfalfa in Britain, Australia, France, Germany, and a number of other countries. 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 [6] and introduced the word "alfalfa" to the English language. Since North and South America now produce a large part of the world's output, the word "alfalfa" has been slowly entering other languages.

Thirteen Colonies British American colonies which became the United States

The Thirteen Colonies, also known as the Thirteen British Colonies or the Thirteen American Colonies, were a group of colonies of Great Britain on the Atlantic coast of America founded in the 17th and 18th centuries which declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States of America. The Thirteen Colonies had very similar political, constitutional, and legal systems and were dominated by Protestant English-speakers. They were part of Britain's possessions in the New World, which also included colonies in Canada, the Caribbean, and Florida.

Ecology

Alfalfa is a perennial forage legume which normally lives four to eight years, but can live more than 20 years, depending on variety and climate. [14] The plant grows to a height of up to 1 m (3.3 ft), and has a deep root system, sometimes growing to a depth of more than 15 m (49 ft) to reach groundwater. Typically the root system grows to a depth of 2–3 metres depending on subsoil constraints. [14] Owing to deep root system, it helps to improve soil nitrogen fertility and protect from soil erosion. [15] This depth of root system, and perenniality of crowns that store carbohydrates as an energy reserve, make it very resilient, especially to droughts. Alfalfa is more drought-hardy than drought-tolerant and the persistence of the plant also depends on the management of the stand. [14] It has a tetraploid genome. [16]

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 shoot buds that enable alfalfa to regrow many times after being grazed or harvested; however, overgrazing of the buds will reduce the new leaves on offer to the grazing animal.

This plant exhibits autotoxicity, which means it is difficult for alfalfa seed to grow in existing stands of alfalfa. [17] Therefore, alfalfa fields are recommended to be rotated with other species (for example, corn or wheat) before reseeding. [18]

Culture

Lucerne fields in the Kalahari Desert (2017)
24deg20'21.5''S 018deg35'36.4''E / 24.339306degS 18.593444degE / -24.339306; 18.593444 Luzerne Kalahari.jpg
Lucerne fields in the Kalahari Desert (2017)
24°20′21.5″S018°35′36.4″E / 24.339306°S 18.593444°E / -24.339306; 18.593444

Alfalfa is widely grown throughout the world as forage for cattle, and is most often harvested as hay, but can also be made into silage, grazed, or fed as greenchop. [19] Alfalfa usually has the highest feeding value of all common hay crops. It is used less frequently as pasture. [18] 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. [20]

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. [21] [22] Alfalfa hay is a widely used protein and fiber source for meat rabbits. In poultry diets, dehydrated alfalfa and alfalfa leaf concentrates are used for pigmenting eggs and meat, because of their high content in carotenoids, which are efficient for colouring egg yolk and body lipids. [23] Humans also eat alfalfa sprouts in salads and sandwiches. [24] [25] Dehydrated alfalfa leaf is commercially available as a dietary supplement in several forms, such as tablets, powders and tea. [26] Fresh alfalfa can cause bloating in livestock, so care must be taken with livestock grazing on alfalfa because of this hazard. [27]

Like other legumes, its root nodules contain bacteria, Sinorhizobium meliloti , with the ability to fix nitrogen, producing a high-protein feed regardless of available nitrogen in the soil. [28] Its nitrogen-fixing ability (which increases soil nitrogen) and its use as an animal feed greatly improve agricultural efficiency. [29] [30]

Alfalfa can be sown in spring or fall, and does best on well-drained soils with a neutral pH of 6.8–7.5. [31] [32] Alfalfa requires sustained levels of potassium and phosphorus to grow well. [33] It is moderately sensitive to salt levels in both the soil and irrigation water, although it continues to be grown in the arid southwestern United States, where salinity is an emerging issue. [34] [35] [36] Soils low in fertility should be fertilized with manure or a chemical fertilizer, but correction of pH is particularly important. [37] 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. [38] A nurse crop is sometimes used, particularly for spring plantings, to reduce weed problems and soil erosion, but can lead to competition for light, water, and nutrients. [39]

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. [40] [41] Total yields are typically around eight tonnes per hectare (four short tons per acre) in temperate environments, but yields have been recorded up to 20 t/ha (16 ts per acre). [41] Yields vary with region, weather, and the crop's stage of maturity when cut. Later cuttings improve yield, but with reduced nutritional content. [42]

Beneficial insects

Honey bee (Apis mellifera), a pollinator on alfalfa flower Apis mellifera - Medicago sativa - Valingu.jpg
Honey bee (Apis mellifera), a pollinator on alfalfa flower

Alfalfa is considered an insectary, a place where insects are reared, and has been proposed as helpful to other crops, such as cotton, if the two are interplanted, because the alfalfa harbours predatory and parasitic insects that would protect the other crop. [43] Harvesting the alfalfa by mowing the entire crop area destroys the insect population, but this can be avoided by mowing in strips so that part of the growth remains. [43]

Pests and diseases

Like most plants, alfalfa can be attacked by various pests and pathogens. Diseases often have subtle symptoms which are easily misdiagnosed and can affect leaves, roots, and stems.

Some pests, such as the alfalfa weevil, aphids, armyworms, and the potato leafhopper, [44] can reduce alfalfa yields dramatically, particularly with the second cutting when weather is warmest. [45] Spotted alfalfa aphid, broadly spread in Australia, not only sucks sap but also injects salivary toxins into the leaves. [46] Registered insecticides or chemical controls are sometimes used to prevent this and labels will specify the withholding period before the forage crop can be grazed or cut for hay or silage. [45] Alfalfa is also susceptible to root rots, including Phytophthora , Rhizoctonia , and Texas root rot. [47] [48] [49]

Harvesting

Alfalfa hay on the way to Clayton, New Mexico, circa 1915. Alfalfa hay, 1915.jpg
Alfalfa hay on the way to Clayton, New Mexico, circa 1915.
Cylindrical bales of alfalfa Alfalfa round bales.jpg
Cylindrical bales of alfalfa

When alfalfa is to be used as hay, it is usually cut and baled. [50] Loose haystacks are still used in some areas, but bales are easier for use in transportation, storage, and feed. [51] 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 because carbohydrates are at their highest. [52] When using farm equipment rather than hand-harvesting, a swather cuts the alfalfa and arranges it in windrows. [53] 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. [50] 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. [54] After the alfalfa has dried, a tractor pulling a baler collects the hay into bales.

Several types of bales are 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 x 18 x 38 in). [16] Small square bales weigh from 25 to 30 kg (55 to 66 lb) depending on moisture, and can be easily hand separated into "flakes". Cattle ranches use large round bales, typically 1.4 to 1.8 m (4.6 to 5.9 ft) in diameter and weighing from 500 to 1,000 kg (1,100 to 2,200 lb). 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. [16] The bales can be loaded and stacked with a tractor using a spike, known as a bale spear, that pierces the center of the bale, [55] or they can be handled with a grapple (claw) on the tractor'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. [21] Rather than being dried to make dry hay, the alfalfa is chopped finely and fermented in silos, trenches, or bags, where the oxygen supply can be limited to promote fermentation. [56] 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. [57] In many cases, alfalfa silage is inoculated with different strains of microorganisms to improve the fermentation quality and aerobic stability of the silage. [58] [59]

Worldwide production

Worldwide alfalfa production Alfalfaoutput.png
Worldwide alfalfa production

During the early 2000s, alfalfa was the most cultivated forage legume in the world. [60] Worldwide production was around 436 million tons in 2006. [60] In 2009, alfalfa was grown on approximately 30 million hectares (74,000,000 acres) worldwide; of this North America produced 41% (11.9 million hectares; 29,000,000 acres), Europe produced 25% (7.12 million hectares; 17,600,000 acres), South America produced 23% (7 million hectares; 17,000,000 acres), Asia produced 8% (2.23 million hectares; 5,500,000 acres), and Africa and Oceania produced the remainder. [61] The US was the largest alfalfa producer in the world by area in 2009, with 9 million hectares (22,000,000 acres), but considerable production area is found in Argentina (6.9 million hectares; 17,000,000 acres), Canada (2 million hectares; 4,900,000 acres), Russia (1.8 million hectares; 4,400,000 acres), Italy (1.3 million hectares; 3,200,000 acres), and China (1.3 million hectares; 3,200,000 acres). [61]

United States

In the United States in 2014, the leading alfalfa-growing states were California, Idaho, and Montana. [13] Alfalfa is predominantly grown in the northern and western United States; [13] it can be grown in the southeastern United States, but leaf and root diseases, poor soils, and a lack of well-adapted varieties are often limitations. [62]

Alfalfa and bees

Alfalfa field Lucerna - Budaors.jpg
Alfalfa field

Alfalfa seed production requires the presence of pollinators when the fields of alfalfa are in bloom. [16] Alfalfa pollination is somewhat problematic, however, because western honey bees, the most commonly used pollinator, are less than ideal for this purpose; the pollen-carrying keel of the alfalfa flower trips and strikes pollinating bees on the head, which helps transfer the pollen to the foraging bee. [16] Western honey bees, however, do not like being struck in the head repeatedly and learn to defeat this action by drawing nectar from the side of the flower. The bees thus collect the nectar, but carry no pollen, so do not pollinate the next flower they visit. [63] 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 to maximize the number of young bees. [63] Western honey bee colonies may suffer protein stress when working alfalfa only, because of shortage of one of the amino acids comprising the pollen protein, isoleucine. Today, the alfalfa leafcutter bee ( Megachile rotundata ) is increasingly used to circumvent these problems. [64] As a solitary but gregarious bee species, it does not build colonies or store honey, but is a very efficient pollinator of alfalfa flowers. [64] Nesting is in individual tunnels in wooden or plastic material, supplied by the alfalfa seed growers. [63] The leafcutter bees are used in the Pacific Northwest, while western honeybees dominate in California alfalfa seed production. [63]

A smaller amount of alfalfa produced for seed is pollinated by the alkali bee, 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. [63] Honey bees are still trucked to many of the fields at bloom time.

B. affinis is important to the agricultural industry, as well as for the pollination of alfalfa. [65] It is known that members of this species pollinate up to 65 different species of plants, and it is the primary pollinator of key dietary crops, such as cranberries, plums, apples, onions, and alfalfa. [66]

M. rotundata was unintentionally introduced into the United States during the 1940s, and its management as a pollinator of alfalfa has led to a three-fold increase in seed production in the U.S. The synchronous emergence of the adult bees of this species during alfalfa blooming period in combination with such behaviors as gregarious nesting, and utilization of leaves and nesting materials that have been mass-produced by humans provide positive benefits for the use of these bees in pollinating alfalfa. [67]

Varieties

Small square bales of alfalfa Alfalfa square bales.jpg
Small square bales of alfalfa

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. [68] Private companies release many new varieties each year in the US. [69]

Most varieties go dormant in the fall, with reduced growth in response to low temperatures and shorter days. [69] 'Nondormant' varieties that grow through the winter are planted in long-season environments such as Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California, whereas 'dormant' varieties are planted in the Upper Midwest, Canada, and the Northeast. [69] 'Nondormant' varieties can be higher-yielding, but they are susceptible to winter-kill in cold climates and have poorer persistence. [69]

Most alfalfa cultivars contain genetic material from sickle medick ( M. falcata ), a crop wild relative 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. [70] Traits for insect resistance have also been introduced from M. glomerata and M. prostrata, members of alfalfa's secondary gene pool. [71]

Watering an alfalfa field Watering alfalfa field.JPG
Watering an alfalfa field

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. [72]

Alfalfa growers or lucerne growers have a suite of varieties or cultivars to choose from in the seed marketplace and base their selection on a number of factors including the dormancy or activity rating, crown height, fit for purpose (i.e., hay production or grazing), disease resistance, insect pest resistance, forage yield, fine leafed varieties and a combination of many favourable attributes. Plant breeding efforts use scientific methodology and technology to strive for new improved varieties.

The L. Teweles Seed Company claimed it created the world's first hybrid alfalfa. [73]

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.

Genetic modification

Roundup Ready alfalfa, a genetically modified variety, was released by Forage Genetics International 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.

In 2005, after completing a 28-page environmental assessment (EA) [74] the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted Roundup Ready alfalfa (RRA) nonregulated status [75] under Code of Federal Regulations Title 7 Part 340, [76] called, "Introduction of Organisms and Products Altered or Produced Through Genetic Engineering Which Are Plant Pests or Which There Is Reason to Believe Are Plant Pests", which regulates, among other things, the introduction (importation, interstate movement, or release into the environment) of organisms and products altered or produced through genetic engineering that are plant pests or that there is reason to believe are plant pests. Monsanto had to seek deregulation to conduct field trials of RRA, because the RRA contains a promoter sequence derived from the plant pathogen figwort mosaic virus. [74] The USDA granted the application for deregulation, stating that the RRA with its modifications: "(1) Exhibit no plant pathogenic properties; (2) are no more likely to become weedy than the nontransgenic parental line or other cultivated alfalfa; (3) are unlikely to increase the weediness potential of any other cultivated or wild species with which it can interbreed; (4) will not cause damage to raw or processed agricultural commodities; (5) will not harm threatened or endangered species or organisms that are beneficial to agriculture; and (6) should not reduce the ability to control pests and weeds in alfalfa or other crops." [74] Monsanto started selling RRA and within two years, more than 300,000 acres were devoted to the plant in the US. [77]

The granting of deregulation was opposed by many groups, including growers of non-GM alfalfa who were concerned about gene flow into their crops. [74] In 2006, the Center for Food Safety, a US non-governmental organization that is a critic of biotech crops, and others, challenged this deregulation in the California Northern District Court. [78] Organic growers were concerned that the GM alfalfa could cross-pollinate with their organic alfalfa, making their crops unsalable in countries that ban the growing of GM crops. [79] The District Court ruled that the USDA's EA did not address two issues concerning RRA's effect on the environment, [80] and in 2007, required the USDA to complete a much more extensive environmental impact statement (EIS). Until the EIS was completed, they banned further planting of RRA but allowed land already planted to continue. [77] [81] The USDA proposed a partial deregulation of RRA but this was also rejected by the District Court. [78] Planting of RRA was halted.

In June 2009, a divided three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court's decision. [82] Monsanto and others appealed to the US Supreme Court. [82]

On 21 June 2010, in Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms , the Supreme Court overturned the District Court decision to ban planting RRA nationwide as there was no evidence of irreparable injury. [83] They ruled that the USDA could partially deregulate RRA before an EIS was completed. The Supreme Court did not consider the District Court's ruling disallowing RRA's deregulation and consequently RRA was still a regulated crop waiting for USDA's completion of an EIS. [78]

This decision was welcomed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, Biotechnology Industry Organization, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean Association, National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cotton Council, and National Potato Council. [84] In July 2010, 75 members of Congress from both political parties sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to immediately allow limited planting of genetically engineered alfalfa. [85] [86] However the USDA did not issue interim deregulatory measures, instead focusing on completing the EIS. Their 2,300-page EIS was published in December 2010. [87] It concluded that RRA would not affect the environment.

Three of the biggest natural food brands in the USA lobbied for a partial deregulation of RRA, [88] but in January 2011, despite protests from organic groups, Secretary Vilsack announced that the USDA had approved the unrestricted planting of genetically modified alfalfa and planting resumed. [89] [90] [91] Secretary Vilsack commented, "After conducting a thorough and transparent examination of alfalfa ... APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa." [92] About 20 million acres (8 million hectares) of alfalfa were grown in the US, the fourth-biggest crop by acreage, of which about 1% were organic. Some biotechnology officials forecast that half of the US alfalfa acreage could eventually be planted with GM alfalfa. [93]

The National Corn Growers Association, [94] the American Farm Bureau Federation, [95] and the Council for Biotech Information [96] warmly applauded this decision. Christine Bushway, CEO of the Organic Trade Association, said, "A lot of people are shell-shocked. While we feel Secretary Vilsack worked on this issue, which is progress, this decision puts our organic farmers at risk." [93] The Organic Trade Association issued a press release in 2011 saying that the USDA recognized the impact that cross-contamination could have on organic alfalfa and urged them to place restrictions to minimize any such contamination. [97] However, organic farming groups, organic food outlets, and activists responded by publishing an open letter saying that planting the "alfalfa without any restrictions flies in the face of the interests of conventional and organic farmers, preservation of the environment, and consumer choice." [98] Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, [99] House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas [99] and Senator Richard Lugar [100] issued statements strongly supporting the decision "... giving growers the green light to begin planting an abundant, affordable and safe crop" and giving farmers and consumers the choice ... in planting or purchasing food grown with GM technology, conventionally, or organically." In a Joint Statement, US Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Peter DeFazio said the USDA had the "opportunity to address the concerns of all farmers", but instead "surrender[ed] to business as usual for the biotech industry." [101]

The non-profit Center for Food Safety appealed this decision in March 2011 [102] [103] but the District Court for Northern California rejected this motion in 2012. [104]

Phytoestrogens in alfalfa

Alfalfa, like other leguminous crops, is a known source of phytoestrogens, [105] including spinasterol, [106] coumestrol, and coumestan. [107] Because of this, grazing on alfalfa has caused reduced fertility in sheep and in dairy cattle. [107]

Toxicity of canavanine

Raw alfalfa seeds and sprouts are a source of the amino acid canavanine. Much of the canavanine is converted into other amino acids during germination so sprouts contain much less canavanine than unsprouted seeds. [108] Canavanine competes with arginine, resulting in the synthesis of dysfunctional proteins. Raw unsprouted alfalfa has toxic effects in primates, including humans, which can result in lupus-like symptoms and other immunological diseases in susceptible individuals, [109] [110] and sprouts also produced these symptoms in at least some primates when fed a diet made of 40% alfalfa.[ citation needed ] Stopping consumption of alfalfa seeds can reverse the effects. [111]

Nutritional value

Sprouted alfalfa seeds Sprouted Alfalfa.jpg
Sprouted alfalfa seeds

Raw alfalfa seed sprouts are 93% water, 2% carbohydrates, 4% protein, and contain negligible fat (table). In a 100 gram reference amount, raw alfalfa sprouts supply 23 calories and 29% of the Daily Value of vitamin K. They are a moderate source of vitamin C, some B vitamins, phosphorus, and zinc.

Sprouting

Alfalfa seeds, sprouted, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 96 kJ (23 kcal)
2.1 g
Dietary fiber 1.9 g
Fat
0.7 g
4 g
Vitamins Quantity%DV
Thiamine (B1)
7%
0.076 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
11%
0.126 mg
Niacin (B3)
3%
0.481 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
11%
0.563 mg
Vitamin B6
3%
0.034 mg
Folate (B9)
9%
36 μg
Vitamin C
10%
8.2 mg
Vitamin K
29%
30.5 μg
Minerals Quantity%DV
Calcium
3%
32 mg
Iron
7%
0.96 mg
Magnesium
8%
27 mg
Manganese
9%
0.188 mg
Phosphorus
10%
70 mg
Potassium
2%
79 mg
Sodium
0%
6 mg
Zinc
10%
0.92 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water93 g

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Sprouting alfalfa seeds is the process of germinating seeds for consumption usually involving just water and a jar. However, the seeds and sprouts must be rinsed regularly to avoid the accumulation of the products of decay organisms along with smells of rot and discoloration. Sprouting alfalfa usually takes three to four days with one tablespoon of seed yielding up to three full cups of sprouts. [112]

Health effects

The United States National Institutes of Health (US NIH) reports there is "Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness [of alfalfa] for" the following: [113]

Further, the US NIH has identified several safety concerns and medication interactions. US NIH summarizes:

Alfalfa leaves are POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults. However, taking alfalfa seeds long-term is LIKELY UNSAFE. Alfalfa seed products may cause reactions that are similar to the autoimmune disease called lupus erythematosus.

Alfalfa might also cause some people's skin to become extra sensitive to the sun. [113]

As noted above, raw unsprouted alfalfa has toxic effects in primates, including humans, which can result in lupus-like symptoms and other immunological diseases in susceptible individuals, [109] [110] [113] US NIH calls out special precautions and warnings for the following: [113]

US NIH warns that alfalfa interacts with Warfarin (Coumadin) in a major way; the two should not be combined. [113] US NIH warns that alfalfa interacts with the following medicine types moderately; the user should be cautious when taking alfalfa with these: [113]

US NIH warns that alfalfa may interact with herbs and supplements associated with the following: [113]

Refer to [113] for the most current information and details.

Related Research Articles

<i>Onobrychis viciifolia</i> species of plant

Onobrychis viciifolia, also known as O. sativa or common sainfoin has been an important forage legume in temperate regions until the 1950s. During the Green Revolution it was replaced by high yielding alfalfa and clover species. Due to its anthelmintic properties the common sainfoin is a natural alternative to drugs to control nematode parasitism in the guts of small ruminants. This is the main reason why O. viciifolia came back to the scientific agenda during the last years.

<i>Onobrychis</i> genus of plants

Onobrychis, the sainfoins, are Eurasian perennial herbs of the legume family (Fabaceae). Including doubtfully distinct species and provisionally accepted taxa, about 150 species are presently known. The Flora Europaea lists 23 species of Onobrychis; the main centre of diversity extends from Central Asia to Iran, with 56 species – 27 of which are endemic – in the latter country alone. O. viciifolia is naturalized throughout many countries in Europe and North America grasslands on calcareous soils.

<i>Medicago</i> genus of plants

Medicago is a genus of flowering plants, commonly known as medick or burclover, in the legume family (Fabaceae). It contains at least 87 species and is distributed mainly around the Mediterranean basin. The best-known member of the genus is alfalfa, an important forage crop, and the genus name is based on the Latin name for that plant, medica, from Greek: μηδική (πόα) Median (grass). Most members of the genus are low, creeping herbs, resembling clover, but with burs. However, alfalfa grows to a height of 1 meter, and tree medick is a shrub. Members of the genus are known to produce bioactive compounds such as medicarpin and medicagenic acid. Chromosome numbers in Medicago range from 2n = 14 to 48.

<i>Vicia sativa</i> species of plant

Vicia sativa, known as the common vetch, garden vetch, tare or simply vetch, is a nitrogen-fixing leguminous plant in the family Fabaceae. Although considered a weed when found growing in a cultivated grainfield, this hardy plant is often grown as green manure or livestock fodder.

Forage is a 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 as hay or silage. The term forage fish refers to small schooling fish that are preyed on by larger aquatic animals.

Pollination management

Pollination management is the label for horticultural practices that accomplish or enhance pollination of a crop, to improve yield or quality, by understanding of the particular crop's pollination needs, and by knowledgeable management of pollenizers, pollinators, and pollination conditions.

Pollinator decline

Pollinator decline refers to the reduction in abundance of insect and other animal pollinators in many ecosystems worldwide, beginning at the end of the 20th century, and continuing into the present.

Beneficial insect

Beneficial insects are any of a number of species of insects that perform valued services like pollination and pest control. The concept of beneficial is subjective and only arises in light of desired outcomes from a human perspective. In farming and agriculture, where the goal is to raise selected crops, insects that hinder the production process are classified as pests, while insects that assist production are considered beneficial. In horticulture and gardening; pest control, habitat integration, and 'natural vitality' aesthetics are the desired outcome with beneficial insects.

Fodder nutrition for all animals kept by humans

Fodder, a type of animal feed, is any agricultural foodstuff used specifically to feed domesticated livestock, such as cattle, rabbits, sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. "Fodder" refers particularly to food given to the animals, rather than that which they forage for themselves. Fodder is also called provender and includes hay, straw, silage, compressed and pelleted feeds, oils and mixed rations, and sprouted grains and legumes. Most animal feed is from plants, but some manufacturers add ingredients to processed feeds that are of animal origin.

<i>Cirsium vulgare</i> species of plant

Cirsium vulgare, the spear thistle, bull thistle, or common thistle, is a species of the Asteraceae genus Cirsium, native throughout most of Europe, Western Asia, and northwestern Africa. It is also naturalised in North America, Africa, and Australia and is an invasive weed in some areas. It is the national flower of Scotland.

A nectar source is a flowering plant that produces nectar as part of its reproductive strategy. These plants create nectar, which attract pollinating insects and sometimes other animals such as birds.

<i>Trifolium subterraneum</i> species of plant

Trifolium subterraneum, the subterranean clover, subterranean trefoil, is a species of clover native to northwestern Europe, from Ireland east to Belgium. The plant's name comes from its underground seed development (geocarpy), a characteristic not possessed by other clovers.

Sativa, sativus, and sativum are Latin botanical adjectives meaning cultivated, used to designate certain seed-grown domestic crops.

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 and ensure visitation of the crop plants by the bees. The technique is applied in areas that are normally avoided by beekeepers because of poor honey yields.

<i>Medicago lupulina</i> species of plant

Medicago lupulina, commonly known as black medick, nonesuch, or hop clover, is a plant of dry grassland belonging to the legume or clover family. Plants of the genus Medicago, or bur clovers, are closely related to the true clovers (Trifolium) and sweet clover (Melilotus). Like the true clovers, black medick has three leaflets and a small, yellow flower closely resembling those of lesser trefoil. Black medick belongs to the same genus as alfalfa.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) is a 501c3, U.S. environmental, non-profit organization, based in Washington, D.C. It maintains an office in San Francisco, California. The executive director is Andrew Kimbrell, an attorney. Its stated mission is to protect human health and the environment, focusing on food production technologies such as genetically modified plants and organisms (GMOs). It was founded in 1997.

Mendocino County GMO Ban

Mendocino County, California, was the first jurisdiction in the United States to ban the cultivation, production or distribution of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The ordinance, entitled Measure H, was passed by referendum on March 2, 2004. Initiated by the group "GMO Free Mendocino", the campaign was a highly publicized grassroots effort by local farmers and environmental groups who contend that the potential risks of GMOs to human health and the ecosystem have not yet been fully understood. The measure was met with opposition by several interest groups representing the biotechnology industry, The California Plant Health Association and CropLife America, a Washington-based consortium whose clients represent some of the largest food distributors in the nation, including Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical. Since the enactment of the ordinance, Mendocino County has been added to an international list of "GMO free zones." Pre-emptive statutes banning local municipalities from such ordinances have now become widespread with adoption in sixteen states.

Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, 561 U.S. 139 (2010), is a United States Supreme Court case decided 7-1 in favor of Monsanto. The decision allowed Monsanto to sell genetically modified alfalfa seeds to farmers, and allowed farmers to plant them, grow crops, harvest them, and sell the crop into the food supply. The case came about because the use of the seeds was approved by regulatory authorities; the approval was challenged in district court by Geertson Seed Farms and other groups who were concerned that the genetically modified alfalfa would spread too easily, and the challengers won. Monsanto appealed the district court decision and lost, and appealed again to the Supreme Court, where Monsanto won, thus upholding the original approval and allowing the seeds to be sold.

A genetically modified sugar beet is a sugar beet that has been genetically engineered by the direct manipulation of its genome using biotechnology. Commercialized GM sugar beets make use of a glyphosate-resistance modification developed by Monsanto and KWS Saat. These glyphosate-resistant beets, also called 'Roundup Ready' sugar beets, were developed by 2000, but not commercialized until 2007. Sugar beets are allowed a Maximum Residue Limit of glyphosate of 15 mg/Kg for international trade. As of 2016, GMO sugar beets are grown in the United States and Canada. In the United States, they play an important role in domestic sugar production. Studies have concluded the sugar from glyphosate-resistant sugar beets has the same nutritional value as sugar from conventional (non-GMO) sugar beets.

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