New alfalfa has ‘tremendous potential’ in the Maritimes, says scientist
‘It can tolerate our diverse environments across Canada,’ says Yousef Papadopoulos
A new, high-yield alfalfa variety developed in the Maritimes will go to market in February when Agriculture Agri-Food Canada puts the results of 28 years of research to tender.
Seed companies will get a chance to bid for the right to produce it.
“I think it has tremendous potential,” said Yousef Papadopoulos, the federal research scientist who began this search for better alfalfa in 1988.
Better forage crop
The clover-like legume is a key forage food in the cattle industry, prized by farmers for its high levels of protein.
Papadopoulos — a geneticist trained in Guelph, Ont. — started with 2,000 plants, selected the best 50 and then whittled those down to a single variety. That variety, he said, is drought and flood resistant, high yield and even tolerant of hooves. Yousef Papadopolous, a federal research scientist, was trained in Guelph, Ont., as a geneticist. (CBC)
“I know it can tolerate our diverse environments across Canada,” he said in an interview at Agriculture Agri-Food Canada’s Kentville research centre. “It’s got an advantage. It will have a market here and it will have a market elsewhere.”
Why it’s an improvement
The variety, known as CRS 1001, features creeping root stocks known as rhizomes. Those produce the shoot and root systems of a new plant. The rhizomes improve survivability in watery conditions and when the plant is punctured by hooves.
CRS 1001 maintains alfalfa’s traditional deep tap root system, which enables it to withstand dry weather.
It was developed to address challenging conditions in the Maritimes — primarily, high water tables in spring and fall, and compacted poor quality soil. The alfalfa, known as CRS 1001, maintains alfalfa’s traditional deep tap root system which enables it to withstand dry weather.
Access for local farmers
It has also been a pan-Canadian project. The seed has been produced in Saskatchewan and grown at farms in Ontario and Quebec. There have been field tests at five Nova Scotia farms and three more on Prince Edward Island.
The key to commercializing the variety will be its ability to grow across Canada, Papadopoulos said.
Still, the tender will require a guarantee that the seed will always be available in the Maritimes.
“We want to make sure the farmers who have been supporting us have access,” he said. “Those farmers have been helping us in the real world.”
Used by beef, dairy cattle
Alfalfa is the “jet fuel” in forage fed to beef and dairy cattle, Papadopoulos said. Together the industries are worth $130 million a year in Nova Scotia.
Jon Bekkers, a dairy farmer in Grand Pré, feeds 400 tonnes of alfalfa every year to his herd of cows. A milking cow can eat 50 kilograms a day of forage — most of that is alfalfa. The rest of the forage is made up of corn and grass.
Dairy farmer Jon Bekkers feeds 400 tonnes of alfalfa every year to his herd of dairy cows. (CBC) “The modern dairy cow is a high producing animal that needs a lot of energy from its feed sources,” Bekkers said at Kipawo Holsteins, which overlooks Blomidon. “The more production we can get out of that animal, the fewer animals we have to milk to get our quota.”
More profitable, says farmer
Feed is the single biggest cost on his farm, he said. Bekkers said he is very interested in any improvement in alfalfa, especially a variety resistant to wet weather. “At the end of the day it would make us more profitable if we don’t have to bring in more inputs to make up for the energy of poorer alfalfa,” he said.