- Agronomic: general hay and forage crops
- Production Systems: general crop production
A yield of 4.5 and 5 or more tons of alfalfa hay/ac and net income above $300/ac in the third and fourth production seasons demonstrated that alfalfa is sustainable on selected east Texas soils. Selection of well-aerated and well-drained soils with subsoil pH at 5.5 or higher in the surface four feet is critical for alfalfa on Coastal Plain soils.
Farmers and ranchers on Coastal Plain soils in the southern US need a high nutritive value perennial legume that can be economically grown as an alternative crop in the warm season for hay production and for selective livestock grazing. Advantages of producing a perennial legume compared to hybrid bermudagrasses and annual forage grasses are: 1) Biological nitrogen fixation that provides cost savings by eliminating the need for fertilization with commercial nitrogen; 2) Nitrogen fixation preserves environmental quality by maintaining the pH of limed soils over a longer period; 3) Improved soil quality by increasing the residual nitrogen content of the soil; and 4) Reseeding is eliminated for several years. Research and demonstrations in east Texas indicate that alfalfa has the potential to be an excellent legume for warm-season production on Coastal Plain soils. Studies were initiated in the late 1980s to determine the factors that restricted alfalfa production on the Coastal Plain soils in the Piney Woods of east Texas. These soils, primarily in the Ultisol and Alfisol orders, are naturally acidic and require limestone to elevate soil pH into the range of 6.8 to 7.0 needed for alfalfa production. Boron becomes increasingly unavailable to clovers and alfalfa in limed acid soils. Even though the surface soil can be limed to the correct pH for alfalfa, aluminum levels in acid subsoil can be toxic to alfalfa roots. Subsoil acidity may be ameliorated by application of gypsum or limestone, but the desired effects of these treatments occur over an extensively long time. Soils in the Ultisol and Alfisol orders are highly leached and many are poorly drained. Poorly drained soils are excessively wet for alfalfa during extended periods of high rainfall. The study reported herein was funded for two years with a one-year extension to continue evaluation of on-farm alfalfa production initiated by Dr. Vincent Haby, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at Overton, Texas, with a SARE Research and Education Grant funded to begin in 1999.
The purpose of this on-farm research grant proposal was to continue evaluation of the long-term sustainability of alfalfa production on four farm cooperators’ sites after the original SARE Research and Education grant terminated in May of 2002. Two additional years of research on field-scale alfalfa production and demonstrations on these farm and ranch cooperator sites were needed to better determine the sustainability of alfalfa on Coastal Plain soils.