What is Alfalfa Used For?

Alfalfa has a centuries-old history as a domesticated crop, and is one of the earliest mentioned in written records. Remains of this forage crop more than 6,000 years old have been found in Iran; the oldest written reference to alfalfa comes from Turkey in 1300BC, according to “Alfalfa Wildlife & Environment,” 2001 edition.

The primary use of alfalfa is as feed for dairy cows, though it’s also used extensively for horses, sheep, beef and other farm animals. For dairy producers in California, alfalfa is one of three key forage crops. Without it, many dairy cows would not receive the nutrition that they need. 

Alfalfa has enormous feed value, due to its high levels of protein content—among the highest per acre, compared to other forage crops. And because it’s a legume—like peas and beans—it fixes nitrogen in the soil, rather than requiring it as a fertilizer. In California, alfalfa fields already yield more than twice as many tons per acre as the national average, due primarily to climate and conditions.

This critically important forage crop will remain a key component of sustainable agriculture systems in the foreseeable future, because of its high yield, nutritional quality, nitrogen-fixing abilities and carbon sequestration habits. Alfalfa also offers enormous value for improved soil conservation, sustainable crop rotation and as wildlife habitat.

Michael Burney