Lucerne (Medicago sativa) is a valuable leguminous forage and hay crop which is generally grown in areas where water supply is inadequate for berseem.
Its deeper root system makes it very well adaptable to dry areas with irrigation facilities. It grows well as a rainfed or unirrigated crop in high water table areas.
It is an important winter fodder crop used in Goat Farming Business in Rajasthan, Gujarat, and parts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and in Leh area of Ladakh. It is perennial (3-4 years), persistent, productive, and drought-tolerant forage legume which contains 15% crude protein with 72% dry matter digestibility. It supplies green fodder for a longer period (November – June) in comparison to berseem (December – April).
Lucerne is adapted to relatively dry conditions and it may tolerate heat as well as cold. It cannot be grown under humid conditions with high temperatures. It has a wide ecological amplitude and can grow at 2,500 m asl to hot summer with 49°C with adequate moisture available in the soil.
Lucerne needs sandy loam to clayey soil but heavy soils need an efficient drainage system as the crop does not tolerate waterlogging. It cannot thrive on alkaline soils but can be grown on acid soils with a liberal application of lime. Lucerne prefers fertile soil which is rich in organic matter, calcium, phosphorus, and potash.
Like berseem, Lucerne also needs very fine seedbed, as the seeds are very small. One deep plowing with 2-3 harrowings followed by planking is sufficient.
The best sowing time of the crop is mid-October to early November. However, the sowing date may spread from early October in the North to late December in the East and South Zone. In the temperate zone, spring sowing is done in March.
Seed rate and seed treatment
The seed rate depends upon the method of sowing and forage crops. In the case of broadcast method, a seed rate of 20-25 kg/ha should be used while line sowing needs only 12-15 kg/ha but in case of intercropping, it requires only 6-12 kg/ha. Like berseem, seed treatment with Rhizobium culture is beneficial.
Method of sowing
Line sowing is preferred over broadcasting. Like berseem, 10–20 m long beds should be made along with slope with irrigation channels 4-5 m apart. The water-soaked seed is sown in shallow furrows at a row distance of 30 cm by seed drill or Kaira at sufficient soil moisture.
Manures and fertilizers
Lucerne being a leguminous crop requires less nitrogen. However, due to the perennial nature of the crop, it is beneficial to add well-decomposed FYM @ 20-25 tonnes/ha before sowing in the first year. Normally, 20 kg N and 100 kg P2O5/ha should be applied as the basal dose for a good harvest. The application of molybdenum and boron may be done based on the soil test. In subsequent years, annual
supplementation of 80 kg P2O5 and 40 kg K2O/ha should be done.
To attain good germination, pre-sowing irrigation is essential. The crop needs very frequent irrigation during its early growth period at an interval of about one week but once the plants are established, subsequent irrigation is
provided at an interval of 15-20 days during winter and 10-12 days during spring and summer seasons. Proper drainage should be ensured to avoid water logging in the rainy season.
Lucerne takes a long time to establish and therefore heavy weed infestation occurs up to first cutting. The sowing in lines makes weeding easier. Trifluralin, @ 4 kg/ha should be applied before sowing for a good harvest. The akasbel (Cuscuta reflexa) should be removed from the field and burnt. The akasbel should not be allowed to set seed in any case.
The first cut should be taken at 55-65 days after sowing and the subsequent cuts may be taken at 30-35 days interval. In general, annual Lucerne gives 4-5 cuts while in the perennial crop, 7-8 cuts can be taken.
Annual lucerne yields green fodder to the tune of 65-80 tonnes/ha while perennial crop may provide 80-1,100 tonnes/ha.
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