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Alfalfa: How to Increase the Sugar Content (Video)

Sugar increase in alfalfa can contribute to a 5% increase in production of milk in cows. Find out how to improve sugar levels in your forage crops by watching this video.

Video transcript

[An image and a maple leaf appear on screen. This is the title graphic for the video.]

[Light, electronic music fades in.]

Text on screen: Alfalfa: How to Increase the Sugar Content

[The video opens with a shot of an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) employee cutting alfalfa in a test plot.]

Narrator: Alfalfa is the most widely grown forage crop in Canada.

[Cut to a shot of three AAFC employees cutting alfalfa in a test plot.]

Ruminants love to feed on alfalfa.

[Cut to a shot of an AAFC employee replacing a bucket on the alfalfa cutter.]

This legume accounts for almost half of Canada’s total forage crop area.

[Cut to a shot of several research assistants harvesting alfalfa in a test plot.]

[Cut to an exterior shot of the Quebec Research and Development Centre.]

Teams of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists in Quebec...

[Cut to a graphic of the map of Canada. A line appears to indicate where the Quebec Research and Development Centre is located.]

Text on screen: Quebec, Quebec.

...are working to improve various aspects of alfalfa, from its yields...

[Cut to a shot of someone using a tractor to load round bales of hay onto a flatbed.]

[Cut to a shot of swaths of cut alfalfa in a field.]

...and nutritional value...

[Cut to a shot of a research assistant working with alfalfa in a lab.]

...to its digestibility and environmental impact.

[Cut to a shot of AAFC scientists Gaetan Tremblay and Gilles Belanger examining alfalfa in an indoor grow room.]

Research scientists Gaetan Tremblay and Gilles Belanger are studying the sugar content of alfalfa.

[Cut to a shot of Dr. Gaetan Tremblay standing in a laboratory, looking slightly off camera.]

Text on screen: Dr. Gaetan Tremblay, Scientist, Nutritive Value of Feedstuffs, Agriculture et Agri-Food Canada

Gaetan Tremblay: Alfalfa has always, been used as a source of protein. But the important thing to know is that in order to utilize this protein efficiently from an environmental standpoint, you need to also provide the animal with a rapidly fermentable energy source, such as sugars.

[Cut to a closer shot of Dr. Gaetan Tremblay standing in a laboratory, looking slightly off camera.]

Our goal was to increase the sugar content of alfalfa so that the microbes in the rumen could better utilize the protein in the alfalfa.

[Cut to a shot of two research assistants sorting fresh samples of alfalfa.]

[Cut to a shot of AAFC scientists Gaetan Tremblay and Gilles Belanger examining alfalfa in an indoor grow room.]

[Cut to a shot of Dr. Gilles Bélanger standing in a laboratory, looking slightly off camera.]

Text on screen: Dr. Gilles Bélanger, Scientist, Ecophysiology and Agronomy, Agriculture et Agri-Food Canada

Gilles Belanger: We started by conducting a study under controlled conditions to see whether the sugar content in alfalfa increased at any point during the day.

[Cut to a shot of Dr. Bélanger working in a field with a research assistant.]

Then we went into the field and basically did the same thing again, but under real-life conditions...

[Cut to a different shot of a scientist working in an alfalfa plot.]

...if you will, as regards the external climate and soil.

[Cut to a shot of Dr. Gilles Bélanger standing in a laboratory, looking slightly off camera.]

We were able to determine that there was more sugar in the late afternoon.

[Cut to a wider shot of Dr. Gilles Bélanger standing in a laboratory, looking slightly off camera.]

Another important factor that we demonstrated is that leaving wide swaths when harvesting, about 80 percent of the cutting width, also results in a higher sugar content.

[Cut to a close up shot of alfalfa growing in a field.]

That can increase the sugar content by two to four percentage units.

[Cut to a shot of a scientist working inside a greenhouse full of alfalfa.]

There are two major effects. First, it allows the dairy cow’s rumen...

[Cut to a shot of Dr. Gilles Bélanger standing in a laboratory, looking slightly off camera.]

...and thus the dairy cow itself, to better utilize nitrogen…

[Cut to a closer shot of Dr. Gilles Bélanger standing in a laboratory, looking slightly off camera.]

...and it boosts the cow’s voluntary consumption. Like us, cows have a bit of a sweet tooth. So if the forage is sweeter, the cow will eat more of it. Overall, these two effects combined allow the cow to produce up to five percent more milk.

[Cut to a shot of a scientist working with live alfalfa plants in a greenhouse.]

Narrator: These results are important to the dairy and beef cattle sectors and could yield economic gains.

[Cut to a shot of dairy cattle eating forage.]

Higher-energy forages can reduce grain use, stabilize production costs...

[Cut to a shot of a milk truck leaving a dairy farm.]

...lower nitrogen losses to the environment, and improve dairy production.

[Cut to a close up of an alfalfa plant.]

Cutting alfalfa in the late afternoon on a sunny day...

[Cut to a shot of a tractor loading a round bale of hay onto a flatbed.]

...and laying it in a wide swath.

[Cut to a close up of an alfalfa plant.]

That’s the ultimate recipe...

[Cut to a shot of three scientists having a conversation in a greenhouse.]

...for sweeter forages, courtesy of our federal scientists and researchers.

[Cut to a shot of Dr. Gilles Bélanger and Dr. Gaetan Tremblay standing in a greenhouse and smiling to the camera.]

[The shot fades to white.]

[Fade up from white.]

Text on screen: Modern. Innovative. Growing. Discover other agricultural innovations at www.agr.gc.ca.

[Light, electronic music fades out.]

Text on screen: Canada, © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (2017).

[Fade to black.]

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