A project? A question?

Our partners

How to grow Alfalfa under arid conditions

Compared to other forage, alfalfa stands out because of its high protein content. The crop is highly adapted to hot conditions, which allows in particular sun-cured alfalfa hay (dehydrated). Abundant and regular irrigation by pivots allows high yields and, under optimum conditions a harvest per month.

Alfalfa crop establishment

An alfalfa crop is usually planted for 2 or 3 years, with on average a cut each month in a country like Sudan. The secret for securing high yields and quality throughout its life cycle is to suceed in crop establishment.
This requires an optimum plowing of the soil and a sufficient number of alfalfa plants, well distributed per square metre (about 600 plants/m² at sprouting), thanks to good seeding.

The first step is to unpack the soil, especially on newly cultivated land, to allow better water infiltration and a good root development. In the interest of saving time and money, it is advisable to have a soil profile done to assess if there is need to eventually unpack the ground.

ICS Recommends

Preferably use a loosener with "Michel" teeth, which can unpack the ground across the width of the profile, without mixing the different layers.

Use a soil tillage tool which leaves the ground firm enough to support many future machine passages. It must also be leveled to prevent runoff caused by irrigation.
Having firm and even soil improves the longevity of alfalfa crop. In fact, its swiveling root system is very sensitive to compaction, which is one of the limiting factors in the life of an alfalfa field. Well reconsolidated soil before planting prevents the harvesting machines, often heavy, from compacting the soil too much and crushing the roots. A damaged alfalfa root is an entry point for the diseases for which alfalfa is often sensible.

ICS recommends

The Väderstad Carrier disc is perfect for the job. Thanks to its high working speed and aggressive discs, the soil is leveled, and the consolidator roller presses the soil to create a flat surface. The discs work at 10 cm maximum depth enabling a better seed placement. This also allows better distribution of irrigation water (less runoff, better infiltration).

Alfalfa seeds are very small and sensitive to the sowing depth (1 to 1.5 cm). They are also expensive hence the need to reduce as much as possible plant density.

ICS recommends

The Väderstad Rapid seeder which, by its design, allows perfect control of seeding depth.

The special design of this machine allows you to obtain, in almost all situations, a regular seeding depth (+/- 5mm). Its frontal tools can improve the seedbed and the leveling of the field. Rapid therefore obtains the establishment of the crop thanks to a sufficient number of well spaced plants per m².
It also allows, in general, the saving of a significant number of seeds per hectare compared to many competing seeders (between 7 and 15 kg / ha). Productivity also exceeds that of its competitors, with a speed of up to 18km / h!

Rapid seed drill in action in Saudi Arabia

Alfalfa harvesting

Alfalfa headers can use two different cutting systems, self propelled sickle knives header for large farms or trailed rotary disc headers for smaller operations (up to 10 pivots, or 400 to 500 hectares).

  • For large scale farms

ICS recommends

For large farms, we recommend MacDon (Canada) self-propelled headers. The draper cutting system allows a cleaner cut of better quality than a rotary disk system, this encourages better regrowth of alfalfa and higher longevity.

The cutting system is the most fragile part of the header, it often results in the need for frequent servicing if the system is too fragile. MacDon's cutting system is considered the most robust on the market.

MacDon bar mower with a cutting system considered the most robust on the market

Conditionner
It is also important to have a conditioner, to accelerate the drying process and thus improve the quality of feed. MacDon self-propelled headers are also equiped with a very aggressive steel roller conditioner which allows perfect conditioning of alfalfa (aggressive, yet retaining the leaves).

  • For small farm sizes

The draper cutting system is quite expensive, it is not recommended for small farm sizes. We then tend to recommend for the use of rotary disc headers with conditioner. These are cheaper, stronger and more productive.

ICS recommends

We have selected machines from different manufacturers, notably Marangon, Claas or Lely.

The windrowing process, which involves the raking of alfalfa into a windrow before baling it, is a sensitive process. This is because the raking is done just prior to baling, when the forage is dry. The leaves are very sensitive and can easily detach from the stems and be lost.

ICS recommends

The current best system for preserving the maximum of the leaf system is the sun wheel, from Tonutti. This is a very simple, non aggressive system, which is also very productive (up to 15 km / h) and which requires very little maintenance.

Other systems on the market usually require greater maintenance, are often less productive and too aggressive for alfalfa hay.

Tonutti machine in action in Sudan

Baling alfalfa is generally either done in small square bales (18-22kg) or in large square bales (350 to 800kg). Pressing should be done preferably at night when humidity is high enough to prevent the loss of leaves. In fact, pressing by day in hot and desert areas results in significant loss of leaves.
It is sometimes possible to press 2 or 3 hours a night!

ICS Recommends

We work with Lely Welger balers (small square bales) and Claas (large square bales).

To solve the problem of available baling time, new machines dampen the alfalfa windrow prior to pressing, and thus increase the period during which baling is possible, all the while maintaining the maximum quantity of leaves.

ICS is working on this and we hope to offer this solution quickly.

We recommend the use of Claas equipment

Collecting alfalfa bales must be carried out carefully. The use of unsuitable tools, particularly for the collection of large square bales, may cause rapid degradation of the crop.

Because the collection phase can compact the soil and thus cause rapid loss of alfalfa plants (and thus yields and lower quality for the following harvest).

ICS recommends

We recommend using Plegamatic self loading trailers, which can significantly reduce the number of passes of heavy machines, but also the level of compaction for each passage. Furthermore, it is possible to equip the trailer with wider low pressure tires, to further reduce the compaction phenomenon on the most sensitive soils.

Alfalfa harvest in Egypt with ICS and Plegamatic self loading trailers

Stack of alfalfa bales in Sudan

Alfalfa hay in Sudan ready to be transported

Choice of alfalfa varieties

The production of high quality alfalfa hay begins with the selection of adapted varieties. Varietal improvement of the last two decades have led to significant improvements in yields, quality, and the overall life cycle of the crop.

In fact, the current varieties have an improved leaf/stalk ratio and are much more adapted to mechanical harvesting, which significantly increases the forage protein percentage.

They also have a flatter tillering plate and are thus more resistant to traffic, which reduces the loss of stalks at harvest, and therefore increases the crop's life cycle.

ICS recommends

With 20 years of experience in the market of alfalfa seed, we have been able to determine which varieties are suitable for arid conditions. These varieties are of Australian or Californian origin and enable the production of high quality forage: Superfast, Terralfa 95.50, ICS 9898, Magna 901, Magna 995, Perfect

  • © ICS 2017
The partner of your farming projects in Africa & the Middle East