Alfalfa a valuable crop for farmers

Alfalfa is a hay or pasture crop. And it is so common that we take for granted that it is a North American plant.
However, it did not originate here at all.
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) probably originated in the Middle East. It has been grown for forage longer than any other plant in the world.
When Greece was invaded by the Persians around 400 B.C., alfalfa was introduced. The Romans grew it in Italy, and took it to many parts of the then known world.
It was the Spaniards who brought it to America.
One of the characteristics of alfalfa which makes it so valuable is its root system. The main rootstalk of this plant may go down 20, 30, or even 50 feet—if the soil is porous.
This means alfalfa can withstand very severe drought, and can be grown successfully even in dry climates.
Little seedlings—just a couple of months old—may have roots up to three feet long already.
Another valuable thing about alfalfa is its ability to grow again very quickly after being cut. It makes a dense growth of new stems and leaves after it has been cut for hay, which means that two, three, or more crops can be taken in a single season.
It is quite palatable to animals and contains a lot of valuable nutrients.
As with everything else, however, there is always a little cloud with the sunshine. If an acre of land is to provide three tons of alfalfa hay, the plants need about 2,400 tons of water from the soil.
This is an enormous amount—even though much of it is drawn from deep in the soil.
Large acreages of alfalfa, over a long period of time, may reduce the amount of water in the subsoil by a dangerous amount unless there is plenty of rain in the area.
Alfalfa is a legume (a member of the bean and pea family). These plants have little “nodules” or lumps on their roots. In these nodules are nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
Air is about 80 percent nitrogen, but plants cannot use it. Instead, it has to be changed to a form which the plants can use. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria do this job.
If the right type of bacteria is not present in the soil, then some has to be put there. This is called inoculating the soil.
In the early days of the United States, some colonists—including such notables as Washington and Jefferson—introduced alfalfa but it did not prosper at all.
Years later, it was introduced into California. It spread throughout the west and did very well.
Some soil from the west was brought east along with seed, and alfalfa became firmly established in the central and eastern part of the continent. It is now the major forage crop in much of North America.
Alfalfa is a clover-like plant, found in most of the agricultural world. There are more than 50 different species—and new ones appear often as plant breeders try to improve it.
Leaves are in threes, similar to clover. Flowers usually run from white to purple. There are some yellow ones, however.
The seed pods are sort of spiral shaped, and contain several seeds.
Alfalfa is one of our better sources of pasture, hay, and silage. That may not mean much to city dwellers, but it sure means a lot to farmers and their animals.

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