Alfalfa is a forage and cover crop grown globally, best suited to warmer climates. The top alfalfa producers include the United States, Argentina, Spain, China, and Australia. It is primarily cultivated as feed for a variety of livestock; its high protein content and easily digestible fiber makes it an ideal food source for dairy and meat cows. It grows as a perennial and can usually be harvested 2 to 3 times a year, although in hotter areas can be harvested as much as 12 times a year.
Alfalfa Field Trial in Israel
The Beit She’an valley, located in the northeast of Israel, is the main area for alfalfa farming in the country. The most common variety is the "Gilboa", of the Peruvian alfalfa type. Alfalfa cultivation is very important for the area’s economy, and it is important as part of Israel’s breadbasket, especially in the eastern part of the valley, where there are harsh soil conditions (soil of marl - limestone origin) and where irrigation with brackish water is common. The main water sources in the area are Jordan River water with a very high salinity (1200–1700 mg chlorine) and water from the springs of southern Gilboa at different levels of salinity (600–1200 mg chlorine). The low cost of this poor-quality brackish water is a necessary condition for the viability of growth in most farms where alfalfa is a source of income.
In the Beit She'an area, alfalfa is sown in the fall, and the crop is intended as a triennial and a multi-harvest (between 9-10 harvests). Maoz Haim farms irrigate about 18,000 cubic meters per ha/year in saline water with high chloride and E.C ranging from 3 to 5 (dS/m). Under these irrigation conditions there is difficulty in the initial establishment of the crop after germination. Another difficulty exists when the sensitive roots reach the depths of the soil where there is a buildup of salts in high concentration.
In our trials, we attempted to determine the effect of SaliCrop’s seed enhancement on plant growth under salinity stress. This seed treatment triggers an epigenetic change in the seeds aimed at increasing their salt tolerance. The seeds are then grown normally. We tested the durability of plants when irrigated with salty and brackish water, which normally limits plant growth.
Materials and Methods
Salicrop conducts field observation in the southeast of Beit She'an Valley. The plot was sown on October 20, 2021, in a commercial alfalfa field of Kibbutz Maoz Haim. Two seed enhancement treatments of Salicrop were examined. The total size of the treated plants was 2 ha, sown in an 8-ha plot in-between untreated seeds. The plot was treated as usual with the cultivation of commercial alfalfa, under the management of the farm organization managers.
A commercial harvest was conducted from the third harvest onwards. The harvested plant material was compressed into small bales (18 kg each) which were counted in a pre-marked line in A, B & Ctrl areas. The harvest size of the marked line represents 0.35 ha in the field.
The alfalfa trial is monitored along the growth in satellite images in which the NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) is measured. This index characterizes vegetation by measuring the difference between near infrared light reflected by plants and the red light that vegetation absorbs. Using these images, it is possible to map the variance and identify areas that suffer from stress conditions and lack inputs. The index ranges in values between 0-1. High values indicate massive and dense growth.
NDVI measurements along the trial. The difference is especially evident in the growth (biomass accumulation) between the harvests. These results, together with the harvests yield indications shows a dramatic advantage for Salicrop’s Alfalfa treated plants in comparison with untreated alfalfa plants.
A water test conducted in the field at the beginning of the season. The salinity EC level was 3.01 dsm-1.
The results of the harvests (sampled & commercial) which are shown in this report, indicate a great potential for increase of Alfalfa yield under salinity stress. An increase of up to 24% in plant material was recorded in the commercial harvest of the plot. These results include the data of several harvests along the entire first season of the crop. In combination with the indications of the NDVI index, which demonstrate the ability of the treated alfalfa plants to gain biomass between harvests, we are looking forward to collecting the data of the upcoming harvest this season and of the observation in the next two years.
Based on the FAO and UNESCO soil map of the world, various saline soils occupy about 1,000 million hectares of surface, accounting for about 10 percent of the global land area, and are widely distributed in more than 100 countries and regions. Moreover, the area of soil salinization is continuously increasing. According to statistics from FAO more than 50 per cent of the world’s irrigated soils are affected by secondary salinization and/or alkalization.
SaliCrop’s field trial in Alfalfa is showing a greater yield and plant biomass for treated plants under salinity stress.
The application of the SaliCrop’s seed enhancement on alfalfa plants, at field condition, indicates a significant increase of forage yield in Maoz Haim trial.
The results suggest that plants, treated with the SaliCrop seed enhancement, confers a high salinity tolerance compared to untreated plants, and presents the ability to produce high forage yield. These results indicate huge potential for integration of SaliCrop’s seed enhancement in alfalfa fields under saline stress around the globe.