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Dan Undersander: A step forward for alfalfa

[audio:http://news.cals.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/dan_undersander_RR_alfalfa.mp3|titles=Dan Undersander: A step forward for alfalfa]

Transcript:

Sevie Kenyon

A new alfalfa makes it into the market. We are visiting today with Dan Undersander, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison Wisconsin, and I am Sevie Kenyon. Dan, welcome to our microphone, introduce us to this new alfalfa.

Dan Undersander

Roundup Ready alfalfa has become available. We of course have had Roundup Ready corn and soybeans for 25 or 30 years, but this is the first time we have had that gene in alfalfa and available to farmers.

Sevie Kenyon

Dan, what are some of the advantages of this new alfalfa?

Dan Undersander

The advantages of the new alfalfa are, of course, that we can use the herbicide Roundup on it. It is the safest herbicide we have in terms of people. The other thing is that it controls a range of weeds. Whereas our other herbicides are pretty much either grassy weeds or broad leaf, this controls both. Then the other issue that we have had with herbicides is that most of the other herbicides we would apply to the green forage, really kind of burn back the alfalfa and you suffer some yield loss, but Roundup does not.

Sevie Kenyon

Are there any other differences that you can see with the new alfalfa?

Dan Undersander

Not that we have seen to this point. We have done a lot of analysis on mineral composition and other traits, and we have basically found no difference. We have done feeding trials and found that it is equal or higher in quality than other varieties. There have been some claims of improved stand life, that the Roundup Ready alfalfa may last longer, but we haven’t seen that and I doubt that we will because for the most part, in Wisconsin, alfalfa dies because the plant gets diseases. What we find is that the Roundup Ready genes is not going to affect disease resistance, so since our plants die from disease, that is going to keep happening whether or not it has the Roundup Ready gene.

Sevie Kenyon

Dan, maybe I could get you to look into your crystal ball a little bit more. What may be down the road for new alfalfas in the future?

Dan Undersander

One of the things that excites me most, that I think will be a benefit to all farmers, is that we have a genetically modified alfalfa that reduces the lignin content. What it really does is let us harvest the alfalfa at a later stage and get the same quality forage but get 15 or 20% more yield. I think that it’s going to be a great benefit. We’re also looking at traits that are disease resistant, we are looking at a trait that improves the quality of the protein for the animals that are grazing it, we are looking at some traits that might give alfalfa better drought stress. The fact that we can now use the GMO breeding technology for alfalfa opens up a lot of doors to new traits that have potential down the road.

Sevie Kenyon

We’ve been visiting with Dan Undersander, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison Wisconsin, and I am Sevie Kenyon.