Attacking the Yield Plateau for Alfalfa with Intensive Management and Statewide Alfalfa Survey

Grants and Contracts Details


NACA Statement of Work “Kentucky Alfalfa Nutrient Survey: Understanding the Role of Soil Fertility” Edwin Ritchey, Chris Teutsch, and John Grove, University of Kentucky. Department of Plant and Soil Sciences Objectives: Alfalfa yield steadily increased nationally from 1950 to the mid-1980s when it reached a “plateau”. In the past three decades alfalfa yield has not increased (USDA-NASS, 2021). The overarching objective of this project is to understand alfalfa yield constraints, with initial emphasis focusing on soil fertility. Specific objectives are to: 1) Conduct a detailed survey of the nutrient status of alfalfa production fields in the Commonwealth and use this information to direct future soil fertility research. 2) Summarize existing Kentucky alfalfa response data to phosphorus, potassium, and lime application and contribute to the Fertilizer Recommendation Support Tool (FRST). 3) Establish a demonstration trial that will compare two levels of management intensity and provide an educational platform for intensifying the management of alfalfa in mid-South. Approach: Alfalfa will be sampled from multiple fields in Kentucky and surrounding states as able. All management operations will be recorded to aid in data interpretation. Tissue samples will be collected and analyzed for nutrient concentrations (N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, B, and Mo) via digestion/spectroscopic analysis, and nutritive value (crude protein and digestibility) via Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS). Soil samples will be collected in the same field areas as tissue samples to help give more meaning to plant tissue results. Additionally, forage biomass samples will be collected as able to provide a yield estimate. Tissue, soil, and biomass samples will be collected a select set of fields at each harvest to provide an understanding of how/if tissue samples can be used to guide nutrient applications for future harvests. We envision this tissue survey to cover a wide degree of management intensities (from low input to very intensive), in different growing environments across the state. This will help provide a baseline to understanding how management and environment influence yield, forage nutrient profiles, and potentially how stand performance (in-season growth/yield as well as across-season productivity and longevity) is influenced by environment, soil and management. Where able, we will work with selected producers to apply nutrient strips in an individual field and then collect yield and nutrient data that will provide more consequential information than a single forage sample for a field with only one nutrition management scheme. There is currently an effort to provide more uniform soil test-based fertilizer rate recommendations on a more regional basis. The Fertilizer Recommendation Support Tool (FRST) is currently focused on major row crops but will be expanded alfalfa. Existing data that has led to current fertilizer rate recommendations will be compiled for individual states. Later, the FRST project will conduct new fertilizer P and K calibration research to add to, and contrast with, the new database. This project will help compile existing data – with future work contributing to the calibration aspect of FRST. The last part of this project will create a demonstration/research area investigating the current yield plateau in alfalfa production. Nationally, alfalfa yield reached a plateau sometime during the early to mid-1980’s. The reason for this plateau is not fully understood. Data from the University of Kentucky’s variety testing program commonly exceeds average state yields by 40 to 60%. This indicates that the yield potential of commercially available varieties is not being realized on farms in the commonwealth. This demonstration will also be used as platform for in-service trainings for extension agents and agricultural professionals, and focused workshops and field days for alfalfa producers in Kentucky and surrounding states. The findings from the research will provide a national overview to the current trends associated with alfalfa fertility. This preliminary working group plans to develop additional projects and seek nationally competitive funding opportunities to advance future alfalfa production. STATEMENT OF MUTUAL INTEREST: Both parties are actively engaged in independent research projects relating to alfalfa soil fertility. The parties agree that meeting the objectives of this project will strengthen and enhance ongoing research within the scope of this agreement. THE COOPERATOR AGREES TO: 1. Work closely with ARS in planning and conducting the research outlined herein. 2. Work closely with ARS to prepare findings for publication in peer-reviewed journals and presentations at meetings and/ or commodity groups. 3. Be responsible and accountable for the performance and conduct of all Cooperator employees assigned to the project. ARS does not have authority to supervise Cooperator employees or engage in the employer/ employee relationship of the Cooperator. 4. Provide ARS annual/ semi-annual/ quarterly and final performance reports. Refer to 7 CFR Part 550, Section 550.52 Reporting Program Performance (2 CFR Part 200, Section 200.328 for CA’s and Grants, Monitoring and reporting program performance). Submit the annual report no later than June 1 each year the agreement is active and the final no later than 90 days after the expiration/ termination date of the Agreement. 5. Refer to 7 CFR Part 550, Section 550.119 for Publications and Acknowledgement of Support. 6. Submit copies of all publications resulting from the research conducted under this cooperative agreement to the ARS Principal Investigator (ARS PI). The publications will be entered into the ARS publication database for cooperative agreement research accountability purposes and to facilitate data distribution and sharing via the world-wide web. The publication information entered into the ARS publication database will be accessible to the public through the ARS website(s), including the name of the Cooperator''s Principal Investigator and affiliation. AGENCY AGREES TO: 1. Work closely with the cooperator in planning and conducting the research outlined herein. 2. ARS employees are prohibited from engaging in matters related to the Cooperator’s employer/ employee relations such as personnel, performance and time management issues. The Cooperator is solely responsible for the administrative supervision of its employees. 3. Work closely with the Cooperator to prepare findings for publication in peer- reviewed journals and presentations at meetings and/ or commodity groups. 4. Obtain and review the annual and final Financial Status Reports and Performance Reports from the Cooperator. Ensure all reports and other documentation are uploaded into the AIMS E-green for this Agreement. 5. Review, monitor and evaluate research progress and to assist in the planning and coordination of the research to be undertaken. To do so, the ARS PI will maintain close liaison with the Cooperator through scheduled visits, telephone calls, meetings, or other means. 6. Obtain copies of all publications resulting from the research conducted under this cooperative agreement from the Cooperator''s Designated Representative to facilitate data distribution and sharing via the world-wide web. The ARS PI will: a. Enter the publications into the ARS publication database (ARIS system) for research accountability purposes for the subject agreement, which will apply to the ARS Project and Accession Number assigned to this cooperative agreement. The publication(s) will be withheld from the ARS web site until the actual publication date. b. Assure the publication information is complete, including the Title, Authors and Affiliations, Journal or Equivalent name, Publication Date and Citation information (including applicable Volume and Page numbers, DOI (Digital Object Identifier) information, and journal URL and/ or Reprint URL addresses). MUTUAL AGREEMENTS: (red text below is automatically inserted in the statement of work) 1. The agreement budget is hereby incorporated into the agreement. The awarding agency will reimburse the Cooperatorfor the costs budgeted, in the amount of $0.00. As evidence of the Cooperator''s contribution to the project, the Cooperator will contribute resources in the amount of $0.00. Cooperators are required to report budget deviations which they automatically invoke, and when applicable request prior approval for budget revisions, per 7 CFR Part 550.116(c). 2. Payments to the Cooperator will be made through: HHS/Payment Management System or EFT/Treasury Check 3. Correspondence and documentation submitted by the Cooperator to the Agency PI in reference to this agreementshould cite Agreement No. .
Effective start/end date9/15/219/14/26


  • Agricultural Research Service: $137,400.00


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