Cultivation of Lucerne (Medicago sativa) or Alfalfa in India

Cultivation of Lucerne (Medicago sativa) or Alfalfa in India


Lucerne (Medicago sativa L.)  or alfalfa belongs to the family Leguminosae and genus Medicago. It is a deep-rooted herbaceous annual as well as a perennial plant, growing up to a height of 60 to 150 centimeters   It is one of the most important fodder crops in India.  it is mainly grown in regions where the water supply is poor for Berseem. Being deep-rooted crop lucerne extracts water from the deeper one of the soil. It can be grown as a rainfed or unirrigated crop in high-water table areas. 

 This crop may supply green fodder continuously for 3-4 years from the same field as the perennial crop. 
Lucerne is one of the oldest cultivated fodder crops in the world. It was known to Greeks and Romans in about 470 B.C. It is generally believed that lucerne (alfalfa) originated in southwest Asia. It was first cultivated in Persia (Iran), the name alfalfa is an Arabic word. It was introduced in India sometime in 1900 and has now become quite a popular green forage crop.
Lucern has worldwide distribution. It is mainly grown in large in Canada, Argentina, India, Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy, and U.S.S.R.
The lucerne crop in India is mostly grown with irrigation in the state. of Punjab, Haryana, UP, Gujarat, Maharashtra, & T.N. 

Nutritive Value of Lucerne or Alfalfa

 1) It yields nutritious and palatable fodder which contains about 15-20 % crude protein with 72 % digestibility, 1.5 % calcium, 0.2 % phosphorus (dry weight basis), and a high amount of vitamins A, B, and D. 
2) Since lucerne is a rich feed, it should be used only in small quantities when fed to animals. An excess of green lucerne causes ‘bloat’ in cattle. Some animals are more prone to this complaint than others. Therefore, start with a small quantity of green feed in the beginning and then gradually increase the quantity. 
4) Feeding of lucerne hay may replace the use of grains and concentrates.
5) Lucerne hay is particularly rich in protein, calcium, and vitamins.
6) Lucerne crop supplies green fodder for a longer period (November to June) in comparison to berseem (December to April).

Climatic Requirements for Lucerne or Alfalfa Crop;

1) Lucerne is well adapted to wide climatic variations.
2) Although a native of temperate regions of southwest Asia, 
3) it is grown successfully even in the countries of the tropics
4) It thrives best under warm, dry, and sunny conditions.
5) If the high temperatures are accompanied by high humidity the crop suffers badly, 
6) its plant can also withstand fairly low temperatures.
7)  It can be grown in some regions below sea level, as well as at elevations of 2500 meters altitude,

Soil Requirements for Lucerne or Alfalfa Crop;

1) Lucerne can be grown on a wide range of soils, from sandy loam to clay.

2) It does best on well-drained fertile deep loam soils
3) It does not thrive well on very heavy and waterlogged soils.
4) It can not thrive on alkaline soils but can be grown on acid soils with a liberal application of lime

Important Varieties of Lucerne

There are only a few good varieties of lucerne that could be grown successfully in most parts of the lucerne growing tracts.  Characteristics of some of the important and most commonly grown varieties are given as follows:



Sirsa No-8

This is a variety of annual Lucerne evolved from Fodder Research Station, Sirsa in Haryana. It is suitable to grow in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh. It has deep green foliage and violet flowers. This variety gives about 500 to 700 quintals of green fodder and 2 to 3 quintals of seed per hectare per year.

Sirsa No.9

This is a variety of perennial lucerne which was also evolved from Fodder Research Station, Sirsa. It is a quick growing variety with deep green foliage, slender stalks, and bluish-purple flowers. It is suitable for growing in north India. It yields about 600 to 900 quintals of green fodder and 2.5 to 4.25 quintals of seed per hectare per year.

NDRI Selection No-l

It has thick roots which penetrate deep into the soil. It is a selection material obtained from Saurashtra and Kutch. The leaves are smaller in size with thin and turgid stems. The florets and the seeds are smaller in size when compared to other lucerne varieties. This variety of is capable of maintaining itself in its pure stands over five to years without getting degenerated to the infestation of weeds. The cr is ready for first cut after 60-70 days of sowing. It gives about 1000 quintals of green fodder per hectare per year. This variety once sown continues to Be green fodder for over 6 years.


The variety, Anand Lucerne-3 (AL-3) is recommended for Lucerne growing areas of Middle Gujarat. It yields nutritious and palatable fodder continuously for 2 to 3 years as well as it gives more herbage. It has good regeneration capacity and negligible incidence of pests and diseases. Yield potential 1000-1100 Qt/Ha


Perennial nature. Recommended for North west zone of India. Yield potential 800- 900 qt /Ha

Chetak (S-244)

 The variety is suitable for cultivation in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. The plant height is 70–90 cm with dark green foliage and light purple flowers. It has quick regeneration capacity with resistance to aphids. It yields 140–150 t/ha green fodder. 

GAUL-2 (SS-627)

It has been recommended for cultivation in whole Gujarat but has been found more suitable for northern Gujarat. The plants are tall and provide 10 to 12 cuttings in a year with 80–100 t/ha green fodder.

GAUL-1 (Anand-2)

selection from perennial type Lucerne grown in Bhuj area of Kutch region of Gujrat. The green forage yield is 80–100 t/ha. It is suitable for cultivation in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Yield is 70–80 t/ha green fodder in 10–12 cuts/ years and 0.2–0.3 t/ha seed.

Composite 5

It gives 8 cutting up to first week of July and has a yield potential about 70–75 t/ha fodder and 0.3–0.5 t/ha seed.

Composite 3

It is resistant to lodging and frost and provides 38–40 t/ha green fodder and 0.30–0.35 t/ha seed

Lucerne no. 9-L

It is a quick growing variety with deep green foliage, slender stalks and purple flowers. It grows well for a period of 5–7 years. Its yield potential is about 75 t/ha of green fodder/year. It yields 55–60 t/ha of green fodder up to July during the first year


The variety has been recommended for cultivation for year-round irrigated situations in all zones of the country. This first cut of the crop can be taken in 50–60 days of sowing and thereafter cut can be taken at 25–30 days. The variety is resistant to major diseases and pests and yields 75–100 t/ha green fodder in 11 cuts.


Rotations and Mixed Cropping in Lucerne or Alfa-Alfa;

Lucerne is generally grown after harvesting Kharif crops such as jowar, paddy, maize, soybean, cowpea, guar, etc. It can be grown in Rome with almost every grain or forage crop. The common rotations are as follows:
1. Maize-lucerne 

2. Jowar-lucerne 
3. Paddy-lucerne 
4. Soybean-lucerne 
5. Cowpea + maize (fodder)-lucerne 
6. Jowar (grain)-lucerne-maize (fodder) 
7. Moong-lucerne
Note ;
a) Lucerne is a deep-rooted and leguminous crop, is grown mixed with many crops. 
b) It is often mixed with oats. It is intercropped with Napier grass. 
c) Sometimes it is grown mixed with berseem to get a continuous supply of green fodder till May-June, when berseem is completely finished in the hot months of April and May.

Field Preparation  for Lucerne or Alfa-Alfa Crop;

1) Lucerne needs a fine well-leveled seedbed with adequate moisture. 

2) A fine seedbed ensures better contact of seeds with soil particles and facilitates better germination. Therefore, the field should be prepared thoroughly and leveled properly. 
3) All the weeds and stubbles should be removed from the field before sowing. 
4) Plough the field once with a mold-board plough and three to four times with a local plough or two to three times with harrow, followed by planking each time to secure a firm and fine seedbed.

Seed and Sowing of Lucerne or Alfa-Alfa Crop;

Lucerne seeds

1) Lucerne should be planted from the end of September to the end of October 

2) Middle of October is the best time for sowing lucerne. 
3) For better germination and growth seed should be a healthy, bold, and yellowish-brown shiny surface. 
4) If it is to be sown in the field first time, the seed should be treated with Rhizobium melilotii culture which helps in nitrogen de after the establishment of the seedlings.
Sowing Method;
1) Sowing may be done either by broadcast or line sowing method 
2) If it is sown by broadcast method, care should be taken to cover the seed with a 1-2 centimeter layer of soil. 
3) After the broadcast, mixing could be done with a rake or spike tooth harrow with zero cuts. 
4) Seed may be broadcast after the last harrowing and then covered with planking. 
4) Cares taken that seed should not go more than 1 centimeter deep as seed lucerne is very small.
Seed Rate;
1) In the case of the broadcast method, a seed rate of 20-25 kg per hectare should be used.
2) The seed may be drilled in lines 20 centimeters apart with a seed drill or ‘pora’ attached with a local plough at the rate of 12-15 kg per hectare. 
3) In Maharashtra, particularly on heavy soils it is sown on ridges 45 to 60 centimeter apart. This method could be adopted in some areas of north India also.

Manures and Fertilizers for Lucerne or Alfa-Alfa Crop;

1) Lucerne being a leguminous crop fulfills its major part of nitrogen requirement through the process of symbiotic nitrogen fixation which works effectively from three to four weeks after sowing. 

2) However, soils with low organic matter and poor nitrogen supply may require 20-25 kg nitrogen per hectare as a starter dose which can meet plant requirement before the formation of effective nodules. 
3) An adequate supply of phosphorus is also necessary for the proper functioning of the nodules. Therefore, 60-75 kg P205 per hectare should be applied in lucerne crop. 
3) Lucerne responds well to farmyard manure on sandy loam soils. 
4) Being a perennial crop, it is advantageous to apply every year 25-30 tonnes of farmyard manure per hectare per year.
5) Lucerne is a heavy feeder on soil nutrients. Some of the essential micronutrients such as boron, iron, zinc, manganese, etc., are also likely to become deficient in certain soils.
Proper care should be taken to supply these nutrients in deficient soils.
6) Boron deficiency is generally observed in leached and coarse-textured soils. The leaves of the lucerne plant develop numerous pale yellow spots leading to a disorder known as ‘Lucerne yellow’. The spray of 0.2% borax could be done safely to remove this deficiency. 
7) Iron deficiency, leading to chlorosis is fairly common in poorly drained alkaline soils. 
8) Liming the soil well in advance of sowing is helpful in areas where the soil is acidic. Potash may be required in sandy soils.
9) Experiments have shown that placement of fertilizers at a depth of 4-5 centimeters gives 20-25 percent higher yields in lucerne than when broadcast and mixed in the soil.

Water Management Lucerne or Alfa-Alfa Crop;

1) To attain good germination, pre-sowing irrigation is essential. 

2) Since lucerne takes a long time to establish at an early stage, very frequent irrigation may be required at intervals of 7 to 10 days. Later on, this interval may be extended to 20-25 days as its root system gets well established. 
3) During the summer, the interval of irrigation should be shortened to 15 to 20 
4) When there is optimum moisture in the soil, the color of lucerne is light green but as soon as the deficit starts, the leaves turn to dark green this is the stage for irrigation. If irrigation is not given at this stage Wilting of leaves starts. 
5) The water requirement of lucerne is quite high, with 858 liters of water per kg of dry matter produced. 
5) The crop requires about  15 to 18 irrigations in a year. 
6) During the rainy season, do not allow water to stagnate in the crop.

Weed Control  Lucerne or Alfa-Alfa Crop

1) Lucerne takes a long time to establish itself and gives ample scope for growth up to the time of the first cutting. 

2) If the crop is sown in lines, weed, and hoeing become easier. 
3) First weeding should be done 20-25 days after sowing
4) First cutting could be done 50-55 days after sowing.
5) For good seed production, the weeding of crop is a must. 6)The most harmful weed dodder (cuscuta). This weed should be removed to improve the performance of the crop during the subsequent growing season. 
7) The dodder (cuscuta) plants should be carefully removed along with the host plant and burnt. 
8) Never allow the dodder plants to set seeds because seeds can live viable in the soil for several years. This can also be killed by a spray of crude oil in localized patches at the time of flowering of dodder plants.

Diseases and Pest Management in Lucerne or Alfa-Alfa Crop;

a) Disease Management;
1) Bacterial Wilt;
It is the most serious disease of lucerne which is caused by Aplanobacter insidiosum. The growth of the infected plants gets stunted and there are a large number of branched stems. The roots of affected plants shows brownish-yellow discoloration of the woody tissue. The condition of the field gets worse when the crop gets older.
Control Measures;
(1) Grow resistant varieties. 

(2) Do not grow lucerne in the same field for the next two to three years.
2) Leaf Spot;
It is another severe and widespread disease of lucerne. It is caused by a fungus Pseudopeziza medicaginis. The spots are circular and dark brown to black in color. Diseased plants turn yellow and leaves drop off.
Control Measures;
(1) Early cutting can cure the crop to some extent. 
(2) Spray 0.2% solution of Dithane Z-78. But do not feed the fodder to the animals for a month after spraying.
b) Insect Pests;
1) Lucerne Weevil 
The larvae of this pest feed on the leaves and in severe infestations cause stunted growth. This pest can be controlled by spraying 0.05% Endosulfan 35 EC.
2) Lucerne Caterpillar;
This is also another serious pest of lucerne. Pupae of this pest lives in Soil. The population could be controlled by hoeing in between the rows. In case of severe infestation spray of 0.2%, Sevin should be done.
3) Leaf Hoppers;
Leafhoppers of several species suck the sap of the leaves. Control is difficult because young wingless hoppers hide on the underside of leaves and the adults are quite resistant to insecticides.
Besides above mentioned main pests there are several other pests like aphids, green plant bugs, thrips, semi looper, etc., which damage the lucerne crop.
Care should be taken if insecticides are used for controlling pests. Do not feed the fodder to the animals for a period of 20-25 days after spray.

Seed Production of Alfa-Alfa or Lucerne;

1) For seed production, the crop is allowed to flower after taking a cutting at the end of January. 

2) It should be irrigated frequently during the vegetative phase and no stress should be given during flowering.
3) However, irrigation should be withheld after fruiting as this may result in regeneration which affects the seed yield adversely. 
4) Being a cross-pollinated crop, the prospects of better seed setting are improved if few hives of honeybees are kept in or near the field 
5) Harvest the seed crop in the end of May.

Harvesting of Lucerne or Alfa-Alfa;

 The first cutting should be taken 50-60 days after sowing and the subsequent cuttings at the interval of 20 to 30 days when crop a height of 60 centimeters from the ground.


A well-managed crop may yield 800 to 1000 quintals of green fodder and 1.75 to 2.5 quintals of seed per hectare.

One thought on “Cultivation of Lucerne (Medicago sativa) or Alfalfa in India

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Verified by MonsterInsights