With the majority of so called experts prophesising that the planet is getting hotter and drier due to global warming, is it time that we thought, in this country, of growing a forage crop that has drought tolerance and is a superb product to feed to high performance dairy cows? Is this just a pipe dream or is Lucerne a crop we should be thinking of growing that fits all these criteria. A growing number of farmers are already growing this crop in the UK with considerable success and reports suggest that by feeding Lucerne (Alfalfa) large dairy herds in the USA, Israel and other middle eastern countries are benefitting considerably. Where would this crop fit into feeding regimes in this country both for dairy and beef herds? Financial benefit and details are well worth considering. We outline some of the many aspects of where the crop would fit in and the aspects of growing and harvesting techniques in the facts below.


a) Facts

  • Drought tolerant (very deep rooted)
  • High protein forage (18% - 23% Crude Protein)
  • 3 - 5 year ley
  • 4 - 5 silage cuts per year
  • Nitrogen benefit to subsequent crop
  • Ideal grass and maize silage balancer
  • 14 - 20 tonnes fresh yield per annum @ 30% Dry Matter
  • Suitable for dairy, beef and sheep
  • Not for grazing as can cause bloat

b) Sowing

  • Must have free draining alkaline soil (pH minimum 6.5 preferably 7)
  • Preferably not too heavy a land
  • Index 2 for both P & K
  • Sow into well cultivated moist seed bed from April to Mid August at latest
  • Won't tolerate weeds so preferable to under sow with spring barley or a timothy / meadow fescue mix to help establishment
  • Sow 10 - 12 kgs per acre
  • Sow 1cm deep either broadcast or in 10cm rows and then roll
  • Best varieties are Daisy or Marshall

c) Harvesting

  • May onwards at 5-6 weeks intervals
  • Cut at 8cm stubble length
  • Cut when flowers have set for maximum yield and quality
  • Swath and wilt and harvest when top of swath us dry and middle of swath is still green and moist. Leave it too long and the leaves drop to the ground and you lose nutritional value
  • Low in fibre and sugars so must be treated with a silage additive to obtain correct fermentation
  • Apply fertiliser immediately after cutting to avoid leaf scorch

If you need more comprehensive information about any aspect of Lucerne growing and feeding please ring the office where we will put you in touch with our arable agents or alternatively an agronomist that we would recommend.