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Agronomy Journal Abstract -

Alfalfa Yield and Quality Are Affected by Soil Hydrologic Conditions


This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 86 No. 3, p. 535-542
    Received: June 22, 1992

    * Corresponding author(s):
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  1. H. J. Buscaglia,
  2. H. M. van Es ,
  3. L. D. Geohring,
  4. H. C. A. M. Vermeulen,
  5. G. W. Fick and
  6. R. F. Lucey
  1. Dep. of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY 14853.



Soil water management practices may affect crop growth by reducing periods of excess or shortage of soil water. The objective of this study was to evaluate forage yield and quality as affected by soil hydrologic conditions imposed by four water management practices. The experiment was conducted on a Muskellunge sandy clay loam soil (fine, mixed, frigid Aeric Ochraqualf) in northern New York during three growing seasons (1989–1991), each involving three cuttings of an alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.)—timothy (Phleum pratense L.) intercrop. Treatments consisted of (i) drain open at all times (OD); (ii) drain closed at all times (CD); (iii) drain open in winter, closed in summer (SC); and (iv) drain open in winter and the water table at a target 0.6-m depth using a weir and supplemental irrigation in the summer (SW). Lack of drainage under CD resulted in longer periods of soil saturation and reduced yields by 9 and 16% compared with OD in the first and second growth cycle of 1990 and by 17% during the first growth cycle of 1991. Increased soil wetness after drain closure under SC did not result in yield increases compared with conventional drainage during dry periods and caused a small decrease during a wet growth cycle. Maintaining a water table at 0.6-m depth resulted in 30% yield increase in the dry year 1991, but none in 1989 and 1990. Soil temperatures were not affected by water management. When yields were reduced, crude protein and elemental (P, Ca, K, Mg) concentrations were generally higher, and fiber and lignin levels were generally lower, indicating that increased forage quality partially compensates for lower yields, especially under excess water conditions.

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