Medicago sativa also known as Lucerne but commonly called Alfalfa plant is a perennial flowering plant. It is from the pea family Fabaceae cultivated as important forage crop in many countries.
The plant is a tonic plant that is rich in vitamins, proteins, minerals and enzymes. Alfalfa is widely used in Pharmaceutical Industries for drug production.
Arab first discovered alfalfa and named it ‘the father of all foods’. It is used in salad preparation but some people take it as vegetable. Sprouts should be purchased fresh from farm to market. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those who are immune compromised should avoid alfalfa. This is because when uncooked can harbour harmful bacteria such as salmonella, Listeria etc.
Alfalfa plant should be cultivated for a sustainable drug supply. We all know the importance of drug to man. It is used in treating different diseases. A very profitable business; this is because the population is increasing every day and drug consumption is also on the rise as well.
It is pertinent for smart farmers to look away from the bandwagon and focus on plants that others are ignoring. An acre of alfalfa plant is enough to keep your bank account fat.
Alfalfa plant requires an annual rainfall of 45cm-50cm but can still survive in a low rainfall of 35cm.
To have a successful alfalfa farming;
- Use adequate Phosphate of farm-yard manure,
- Timely irrigation and
- Good spacing.
BENEFITS OF ALFALFA PLANT TO AGRICULTURE
Alfalfa is a leguminous plant as such add nutrient (nitrogen) to the soil which is very important in farming. It also helps in soil conservation by controlling soil erosion.
The plant houses (habitat) many insects, birds and other smaller animals. It is a source of food to horses, sheep, dairy and beef animals.
Clear the land and make it neat; plough and loosen the soil for aeration and good moisture absorption. Alfalfa plant can grow in a wide range of soil but best in a well drain, friable loamy soil rich in organic matter. This plant doesn’t do well in acidic soil a PH of 6.5-7.0 is ideal.
Mountain rose plant as some people will call it, is hardy, resistant to drought and able to tolerate high temperature up to 40°C-45°C. These characteristics can be found in tiger nuts.
Soak the seeds in warm water for a day or overnight to break their hard coat before sowing. Planting should be carried out during raining season. Sow them in line or ridges, it will help in controlling weeds in the farm. An acre of alfalfa plant will require 5-6kg seeds for planting.
Alfalfa germinates within 3-4 weeks after 2 months they start flowering and continue till the end of another 2 months. It attains optimum vegetative growth in 6-7 months. Thin the plant immediately after germination.
Spacing can be 40cm by 20cm, 50cm by 25cm, 60cm by 30cm, 70cm by 35cm and 80cm by 40cm. However, close planting will reduce the growth of side shoots. Planting should not be less than 60cm. An experiment done on 60cm by 30cm resulted in optimum growth, taller plants, more side branches, fuller flowers and pods. So 60cm by 30cm and 70cm by 35cm should be adopted.
After enriching the soil before planting, apply again after every harvest 4-5 tonnes of animal dung for an acre. You can substitute castor cake for farm-yard manure. Apply 2-3 tonnes of superphosphate (P2O5) in an acre alternatively in subsequent years. It will improve alfalfa yield optimally.
DISEASES AND PEST CONTROL IN ALFALFA FARMING
Leaf spot caused by pseudopeziza medicaginis can be noticed. But good manuring will check it. Diseases that affects alfalfa is not serious in nature. Insects and pest can be controlled by the use of pesticides after cutting the crop.
Alfalfa requires plenty of water to grow well. Establish means of irrigation for the plant, drip irrigation is ideal. First irrigation should be done immediately after seed sowing. Frequent irrigation can then follow until the seedlings grow to about 5cm-10cm above the soil.
Other irrigation should be 15-25 days interval until dud stage and 10-15 days interval during flowering. Apply water once in a while after the plant has been fully established.
WEEDING ALFALFA FARM
Of course weeds are too stubborn and will always grow in your farm whether you like it or not. Keep your farm free from any weed in other to serve your alfalfa plant. Use hoe to clear the weeds and loosen the soil.
Harvesting can be done within 60-70 days . Alfalfa is ready for harvest immediately after flowering. Cutting can be done 6-10 times within 1-2 month interval. 80-100kg seeds yield is obtained in an acre for Island farm. And a yield of 150-200kg for an acre of cultivated alfalfa plant.
Alfalfa is mostly cultivated for livestock in that case the plant should be harvested (cut) before the flower while still succulent.
DRYING OF ALFALFA
Alfalfa crop is dried in an open-air shed to maintain its medicinal and nutritive values. Exposing them or drying them in the sun will decrease their Vitamin contents; especially Vitamin C. Dry them at a temperature of 30°C-40°C.
Supply to market women and men. Locate Pharmaceutical company for a huge purchase. Also engage livestock farmers for a deal.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF ALFALFA PLANT
- These perennial herbs can lower blood levels of glucose and cholesterol.
- Alfalfa supplements taken orally is safe except for few individuals that produces lupus like symptoms. This is as a result of L. Canavanine present in the seed and sprout but not present in the leaf.
- Chinese uses alfalfa to relieve fluid retention and swelling.
- It is good as a diuretic and laxative. Helps in urinary tract infections, kidney, bladder and prostrate disorder.
- Alfalfa helps in reducing fever, prevent tooth decay etc.
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