In temporary grassland, alfalfa is used mainly in three-year mixtures for dry locations. Following recent variety trials, Agroscope has added the new varieties Nutrix and Andantino to the list of recommended forage plants for 2023–2024.
Alfalfa or lucerne (Medicago sativa L.) is a high-yielding, high-quality forage plant that thrives in warm and dry conditions. Under ideal circumstances, it can produce dry matter yields of up to 18 tonnes per hectare. If used at the optimal stage (onset of flowering), it also gives very high protein yields in excess of 2500 kg of crude protein per hectare. Its taproot enables it to withstand prolonged periods of drought. However, alfalfa is demanding in terms of climate and soil. It prefers high temperatures and a deep, nutrient-rich, chalky, well-drained soil. It does not thrive in waterlogged or acidic soils.
Mixtures have the edge
For alfalfa cultivation in Switzerland, Agroscope recommends the tried-and-tested standard mixtures which, besides alfalfa, include various grasses and red or white clover. These are the three-year mixtures SM 320, SM 323 and SM 325, as well as SM 155 for overwintering catch crops. These have the edge over pure alfalfa seed in that they are more persistent, stable-yielding and less prone to weed problems.
New varieties tested in three-year field trials
From 2019 to 2021, Agroscope tested 28 new and 9 already recommended varieties of alfalfa. The trials were set up at six sites in central Switzerland. Researchers studied the following traits: yield, juvenile development, general impression (crop growth, density and uniformity), competitive ability, resistance to leaf diseases and alfalfa wilt, digestibility of forage, overwintering, persistence, resistance to lodging and stem thickness.
Two new varieties recommended
Strictly speaking, none of the new varieties in the trials cleared the hurdle for a variety recommendation. However, as some current varieties are expected to disappear from the list shortly due to lack of seed availability, the range will nevertheless be expanded with the two best-performing new varieties. This will ensure a sufficiently wide range of varieties in the future.
The two new recommended varieties are Nutrix and Andantino. Both fell just short of the standard required for a variety recommendation, achieving better results than the average of the reference varieties on several traits. For example, Nutrix stood out with excellent results for yield, general impression, persistence, resistance to alfalfa wilt, resistance to lodging and stem thickness. Andantino performed especially well on yield, general impression, resistance to lodging and juvenile development.
Gea loses its variety recommendation
Recommended since 2013, this variety is to be deselected following unsatisfactory results for yield, persistence, general impression, lodging resistance and resistance to alfalfa wilt. It will continue to be used for standard mixtures until 31.12.2024.
- Alfalfa is one of the most important forage plants in temporary grassland. It is demanding in terms of climate and soil and its deep root system makes it highly drought tolerant.
- Thanks to intensive breeding work, a wide range of high-performance alfalfa varieties is currently available.
- From 2019 to 2021, Agroscope tested the agronomic traits of 37 varieties of alfalfa.
- The two new cultivars Nutrix and Andantino will be added to the list of recommended forage plants for 2023–2024 despite not quite reaching the standard required for variety recommendation. This will ensure a sufficiently wide range of varieties in the near future.
- Gea is to be deleted from the list of recommended varieties. It will continue to be sold until 31.12.2024.
- The varieties recommended by Agroscope for Swiss forage production guarantee the high quality of the standard mixtures, bringing the greatest benefits for Swiss agriculture.