This year, drought has significantly reduced forage and many farmers and ranchers have turned to hay and alfalfa to keep their animals fed. Since two-thirds of the hay produced in the United States is grown in drought-prone areas, the drought has also had an impact on the hay and alfalfa, so that prices have nearly doubled since last year.
The drought tolerant alfalfa is being developed through the use of genetic analysis and traditional plant breeding techniques. The genetic analysis is used to identify DNA markers on alfalfa chromosomes that are associated with lower water use by the plant. The selected plants are then grown and cross-pollinated with cultivars used by farmers in the area.
The severe drought across the South and Southwest provided an excellent chance to test their new strains. The drought tolerant varieties being developed by NMSU show an increase in yield of 9-14% in the drought conditions. Some of the varieties also have increased nutritional value – a nice side benefit of the breeding.
Alfalfa photo via Shutterstock