Alfalfa has long been recognized as a forage crop with high nutritive value, digestibility, and intake potential to support high milk production. Because of this and many other agronomic characteristics, such as tolerance to drought and nitrogen fixation, it has been quoted as the ‘queen of forages’ and ‘dairy’s most nearly perfect feed’. As close as alfalfa is to a perfect forage, there is room for progress. Decades of breeders’ experience in traditional plant breeding and advances in biotechnology have allowed for new opportunities. The achievement of reduced lignin alfalfa is certainly one of the milestones in forage quality research. Significant advances have been reached in alfalfa production and forage quality by increasing forage digestibility through reduction, not elimination, of lignin in plant tissue. Given the relatively recent presence in the market and the ongoing incorporation of this trait into commercial varieties, only time will confirm the reach of this innovation whether through biotech or traditional breeding methods. This leads to a few questions: What have been the approaches to reducing lignin in germplasm? What is the difference between genetically modified (GMO) or biotech alfalfa, and non-GMO or non-biotech? Can these technologies co-exist? The information presented highlights the distinction between these two types, their applications, and importance.
Soil Science Extension
University of Wisconsin Madison