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Agronomy Journal Abstract -

Water-Stress Effects on Alfalfa Forage Quality After Adjustment for Maturity Differences


This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 81 No. 2, p. 189-194
    Received: Jan 11, 1988

    * Corresponding author(s):
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  1. R. A. Halim,
  2. D. R. Buxton ,
  3. M. J. Hattendorf and
  4. R. E. Carlson
  1. A gronomy Dep., Univ. of Agric., Serdang 43400, Malaysia
    U SDA-ARS, 1565 Agronomy Hall, Iowa State Univ., Ames, IA 50011
    U SDA-ARS, P.O. Box 30, Prosser, WA 99350
    A gronomy Dep., Iowa State Univ., Ames, IA 50011



Forage quality of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) often is higher in water-deficit-stressed plants than in nonstressed plants. At least part of the improvement could result from a delay in plant development due to the water stress. The objective of this study was to determine forage quality response of alfalfa to water stress and to relate this to corresponding changes in plant maturity, phonological development, and growth. ‘Apollo II’ alfalfa was grown in 100-L containers set into the ground and protected by a movable rain shelter. Plants were watered either weekly or twice weekly to 112,100, 88, 76, and 64% of field capacity during 2 yr. Regrowth herbage was harvested at five weekly intervals beginning 3 wk after the initial cut. Plants were divided into stem bases (portion of stems below and including the sixth node), stem tops, and leaves before forage quality analyses were conducted. Plant maturity decreased linearly with increasing water stress. Averaged over the harvests, leaf-to-stem ratio (LSR) increased from 0.60 in the well-watered treatments to 0.72 in the most severely stressed treatment. Delayed plant maturity and node number did not account fully for the increase in LSR under water stress. In vitro digestible dry matter (IVDDM) in stems, which increased by about 9% under water stress, was largely accounted for by delayed plant maturity. In stem bases, crude protein (CP) concentration increased by 11% with increasing water stress, even after accounting for differences in plant maturity. Cellulose concentration, expressed on a cell-wall (CW) basis, decreased whereas CW hemicellulose concentration increased with water stress in both leaves and stems, and these changes were not entirely attributable to differences in plant maturity and growth. Thus, the slowing of plant maturation and growth during water stress accounted for much, but not all, of the changes in forage quality.

Contribution of the USDA-ARS Iowa Cluster program of the U.S. Dairy Forage Res. Ctr. and Iowa State University, Ames, IA. Journal paper no. J-12664 of the Iowa Agric. and Home Economics Exp. Stn., Ames, IA Project No. 2709 and 2397.

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