Alfalfa belongs to the legume family and, amongst its many properties, it boasts the ability to synthesise atmospheric nitrogen, as well as being rich in fibre and high-quality protein. Nowadays, it is very popular amongst farmers as animal feed, especially for ruminants, high milk producing cows, horses, camels, sheep, goats, rabbits and pregnant sows.
Alfalfa - an environmentally-friendly crop
Alfalfa contributes to improving biodiversity with 117 species of birds using it for food, shelter or reproduction. It fixes 9 t/ha/year of CO2, therefore helping to alleviate the greenhouse effect and acting as a green filter.
How alfalfa is used
In Spain, it is mainly used as animal feed and may be:
FreshFor grazing in fields or cut and put in troughs.
This option is especially common in sheep farming, but is used less and less.
SilageWith 30-40% moisture and finely chopped.
This method is not usually used with alfalfa as it is one of the most difficult forages with which to produce good silage.
HayThis is the most traditional method, which involves it being put into bundles or bales, Spain's climate being ideal for this. However, over the past two decades, industrialisation has meant this technique is now much less widespread.
Dried: The classic methodWith this technique, fresh alfalfa with around 80% moisture is harvested and taken directly to a factory to be processed.
This method is not used any more due to the fact that it is simply not profitable.
Dried: The current methodThis technique involves alfalfa being partly dried in fields in order to remove a large amount of its moisture, the aim being for it to have 30% moisture when it is harvested and taken to the factory. This results in significant savings in terms of energy.
This is currently the most popular method and is used for more than 70% of all Spanish alfalfa. Therefore, we may say that alfalfa has now become an industrial crop.
Other usesAlfalfa may also be used to produce juice for human consumption and pharmaceutical products. Thanks to a project funded by the EU, RuBisCO protein has been extracted from alfalfa, which may be used for animal feed, human consumption, pharmaceutical products and cosmetics.