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Benefits of mixing timothy with alfalfa for forage yield, nutritive value, and weed suppression in northern environments

Bélanger, G., Castonguay, Y., Lajeunesse, J. (2014). Benefits of mixing timothy with alfalfa for forage yield, nutritive value, and weed suppression in northern environments, 94(1), 51-60. http://dx.doi.org/10.4141/CJPS2013-228

Abstract

Alfalfa can be grown alone or with a grass, but little information exists on the benefits of mixing alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) with a grass in northern environments. Our objectives were (1) to determine the benefits in terms of forage yield, nutritive value, and weed suppression of mixing timothy (Phleum pratense L.) with alfalfa and (2) to evaluate the persistence of alfalfa cultivars of varied adaptation to cold and of alfalfa populations selectively improved for superior freezing tolerance in a grass-legume mixture and in monoculture. This study was conducted in a region with 1700 degree-days (5°C basis) with one harvest in the seeding year (2008), three harvests in each of two post-seeding years, and one harvest in the third post-seeding year. Adding timothy to alfalfa increased the seasonal total dry matter (DM) yield by an average of 0.57 Mg DM ha-1 yr-1 in the first 2 post-seeding years and this seasonal effect was due mostly to a DM yield increase at the first harvest. The weed contribution to total DM yield in the three harvests of the first 2 post-seeding years was greater in the alfalfa monoculture (16 to 47%) than in the alfalfa-timothy mixture (12 to 36%). Mixing timothy with alfalfa also increased neutral detergent fibre concentration and digestibility, decreased N concentration, and tended to increase water soluble concentration, but had little effect on forage DM digestibility. Cultivars and populations recurrently selected for superior freezing tolerance did not differ in persistence and had a limited effect on DM yield and nutritive value attributes. The positive effect on DM yield of mixing timothy with alfalfa was not accompanied by a reduction in forage digestibility that is usually observed with increased DM yield.

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