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Revista mexicana de ciencias agrícolas

versão impressa ISSN 2007-0934

Rev. Mex. Cienc. Agríc vol.7 no.8 Texcoco Nov./Dez. 2016



Productive behavior of five alfalfa varieties

Adelaido Rafael Rojas García1  § 

Alfonso Hernández-Garay1 

Santiago Joaquín Cansino2 

María de los Ángeles Maldonado Peralta1 

Sergio Iban Mendoza Pedroza3 

Perpetuo Álvarez Vázquez1 

Bertín Maurilio Joaquín Torres4 

1Colegio de Postgraduados-Campus Montecillo. Carretera México-Texcoco km 36.5, Montecillo, Texcoco, Estado de México. CP. 56230. Tel. 015 95 95 202 79. (;;

2Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas- C. U. Adolfo López Mateos, Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. CP. 87149. México. ( (

3Universidad Autónoma Chapingo. Carretera México-Texcoco, km 38.5, Chapingo, Estado de México, México. CP. 56230. Tel. 595 95 21 500. (

4Universidad del Papaloapan. Loma Bonita, Oaxaca. (


Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is the most commonly used legume forage in the diet of dairy cattle in the United States and Mexico. The objective of this research was to evaluate the productive response of five alfalfa varieties with defined cutting intervals seasonally. The research was conducted from June 2010 to June 2011 in the Colegio de Postgraduados, Mexico. Commercial varieties evaluated were: San Miguelito, Jupiter, Atlixco, Via lacteal and Cuf 101, which were randomly distributed into 20 experimental plots of 12 x 9 m, according to a randomized complete block with four replications. The variables evaluated were: growth rate, intercepted radiation, leaf area index and plant height. Jupiter and Cuf 101 varieties with 56 and 37 kg DM ha-1 d-1 recorded the highest and lowest growth rate, respectively. The variety that recorded higher intercepted radiation was Jupiter with an annual average of 85%; of which seasonal distribution throughout the year was 95% in spring, summer 93%, in fall 82% and winter 80%. In the summer season recorded the highest rate of leaf area with 5.4, followed by spring, autumn and winter with 4.4, 3.6 and 2.1, respectively. In conclusion there is a positive relationship in the five alfalfa varieties, between intercepted radiation, growth rate, leaf area index and plant height.

Keywords: Medicago sativa; growth rate; height; intercepted radiation; leaf area index


La alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) es la leguminosa forrajera más utilizada en la alimentación del ganado productor de leche en los Estados Unidos de América y México. El objetivo de esta investigación fue evaluar la respuesta productiva de cinco variedades de alfalfa con intervalos de corte definidos estacionalmente. La investigación se realizó de junio de 2010 a junio de 2011 en el Colegio de Postgraduados, México. Las variedades comerciales evaluadas fueron: San Miguelito, Júpiter, Atlixco, Vía láctea y Cuf 101, las cuales se distribuyeron aleatoriamente en 20 parcelas experimentales de 12 por 9 m, de acuerdo a un diseño de bloques completos al azar con cuatro repeticiones. Las variables evaluadas fueron: tasa de crecimiento, radiación interceptada, índice de área foliar y altura de planta. Las variedades Júpiter y Cuf 101 con 56 y 37 kg MS ha-1 d-1 registraron la mayor y menor tasa de crecimiento, respectivamente. La variedad que mayor radiación interceptada registró fue Júpiter con un promedio anual de 85%; de la cual la distribución estacional a través del año fue 95% en primavera, 93% en verano, 82% en otoño y 80% en invierno. En la estación de verano se encontró el mayor índice de área foliar con 5.4, seguido de primavera, otoño e invierno con 4.4, 3.6 y 2.1, respectivamente. En conclusión existe una relación positiva, en las cinco variedades de alfalfa, entre radiación interceptada, tasa de crecimiento, índice de área foliar y altura de planta.

Palabras clave: Medicago sativa; altura; índice de área foliar; radiación interceptada; tasa de crecimiento


In Mexico, alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is the most commonly legume used as forage for dairy cattle, in arid, semiarid and temperate regions. Domestic production of alfalfa, thus the area planted show a stable trend since 1992 and the largest area sown and harvested is located in the states of Jalisco, Hidalgo, Guanajuato and Baja California and to a lesser extent, in Coahuila, Durango, State of Mexico and Puebla (SAGARPA, 2014). The importance of this species is due to the amount of forage obtained per unit area, and high nutritional value, being appetizing and consumed by large numbers of animals, whether fresh, as hay or silage (Juncafresca, 1983).

However, Hernández-Garay et al. (1992) showed that cut frequency of alfalfa should be defined based on the state of development of the plant, to achieve maximum annual forage yields and persistence. Pérez et al. (2002) showed that knowing the speed of regrowth between successive defoliation is critical to understand the effect of the frequency and severity of harvest on yield. Mendoza et al. (2010) mentions that in alfalfa frequent cuts decrease forage yield, leaf area and increase the invasion of other species, so it is not recommended to harvest alfalfa at intervals of three weeks because the persistence of the species is affected.

Different authors (Rivas et alet al., 2005; Zaragoza et alet al., 2009) reported the highest growth rate of alfalfa in springsummer season and lower in winter. Moreover, Villegas et al. (2004) obtained the highest growth rate in two alfalfa varieties in spring, followed by winter, summer and lower in autumn. Zaragoza et al. (2009) recorded in spring the maximum leaf area index, in alfalfa was higher compared to other seasons and higher than summer autumn and winter with values of 3.5, 2.8, 2 and 1.9.

In autumn and winter leaves accumulation decreased due to reduced plant growth caused by low temperatures and lower solar radiation. In this regard, various authors mention that net accumulation of forage is at a peak, when the largest leaf area index is reached (Chapman and Lemaire, 1993); the leaf area index of the prairie at this point is defined as the optimum leaf area index. Morales et al. (2006) reported plant height in 14 alfalfa varieties, varieties with greater height are related to higher yield, growth rate and leaf:stem ratio. However there is little information on these yield parameters in Mexico. Based on the above, the objective of this study was to evaluate the productive response of five commercial alfalfa varieties with defined cutting intervals seasonally with the following attributes: growth rate, intercepted radiation, leaf area index and plant height.

Materials and methods

The experiment was conducted from June 2010 to June 2011 in the experimental field from the Colegio de Postgraduados, Montecillo, Texcoco, State of Mexico, located at 19º 29' north latitude and 98º 53’ west longitude at an altitude of 2 240 masl. The climate is temperate subhumid, the driest from the subhumid, with annual rainfall of 636.5 mm, and summer rainfall (June to October) and average annual temperature of 15.2 °C (García, 2004). The soil is Typic Ustipsamments sandy loam, slightly alkaline with pH between 7-8 and 2.4% organic matter (Ortiz 1997). Five commercial alfalfa varieties were used: San Miguelito, Jupiter, Atlixco, Via lactea and Cuf 101, established on April 18th, 2008. Sowing was performed through broadcast seed and the study area was divided into 20 plots of 108 m2 (12 x 9 m) with a seeding density of 30 kg ha-1 of pure viable seed, which was adjusted by seed weight and germination percentage of each variety. At the beginning of the experiment a standardization cut was performed (June 2nd, 2010), at an average height of 5 cm, with a tractor-pruner, the experimental phase concluded on June 21st, 2011. During the experimental period (June 2010 to June 2011) the plots were irrigated only during the dry period, every two weeks at field capacity. The interval between cuts varied according to the season; in spring and summer the plants were cut every four weeks, in the fall every five and in winter every six weeks.

Forage growth rate

To calculate growth rate in each plot of alfalfa, at the beginning of the study, were placed at random two squares of 0.25 m2 per replication. The forage within each square was harvested one day before the cut, leaving it at a height of 5 cm, placed in paper bags previously labeled, washed and exposed to a drying process in a forced air oven at a temperature 55 °C for 72 h; once the forage sample was dry it was weighted, to determine the yield per unit area (kg DM ha-1). Subsequently, the growth rate was calculated with yield data obtained from each cut, in each of the replicates with the following formula:

TC= R / T

Where: TC= seasonal average growth rate (kg DM ha-1 d-1); R= seasonal yield (kg MS ha-1); and T= days after each cut.

Intercepted radiation

A day before each cut, five radiation readings were performed at random per replication with the meter stick method described by Adams and Arkin (1977) in each experimental unit. Readings were taken at approximately 13:00 h (is the best time to measure canopy coverage, because at this time, the sun angle is high and light interception changes to minimum). The procedure consisted of placing the rule on the soil surface (under the canopy), with south-north orientation, and immediately after, the shaded centimeters were counted, which represented the percentage of intercepted radiation by crop canopy.

Leaf area index

To determine the leaf area index, a day from each cut, leaves from 5 stems were separated per replication of each variety and placed in a leaf area integrator CID, Inc, CI-202 scanner, obtaining readings in cm2 per stem. These readings along with the number of stems per square meter allowed estimating the leaf area index through the following formula:


Where: LAI= leaf area index; AF= leaf area per stem; and DT= stem density (m-2).

Plant height

To estimate the average height per plant of each variety, a day before the cut, 25 readings per replication were randomly taken. To do this a ruler of 100 cm, which was placed randomly in the plot, so that the bottom of the ruler remain at ground level was used. Subsequently, a device that the rules has, was placed vertically above the crop canopy and slid down until it touched some morphological component and recorded the height.

Weather data

Maximum, minimum temperature and distribution of rainfall data during the evaluation period were obtained from the agro-meteorological station of the Colegio de Postgraduados, located at 100 m from the experimental area (Figure 1). The maximum temperature was observed in July 2010 and from March to June 2011 with an average of 28 °C corresponding to the spring and summer season, mainly. The minimum temperature was recorded in the months of December 2010, January and February 2011 with an average of -1 oC, corresponding to the winter season. The most appropriate temperature for alfalfa growth was during the spring and summer season. The highest rainfall (mm) concentrated in the months of July, August, September and November from 2010 and June 2011 with an accumulated rainfall of 404 mm being in the summer and fall seasons mainly. The months with less precipitation were December 2010 and January 2011 with 13 mm corresponding to the winter season.

Figure 1 Monthly average maximum, minimum temperature and monthly accumulated rainfall during the study period (June 2010 to June 2011). 

Statistical analysis

To compare the effect of alfalfa varieties studied, an analysis of variance was performed with the procedure mixed models (SAS, 2009), with a randomized block design with four replications. The comparison of means was performed using the adjusted Tukey test (α= 0.05) according to Steel and Torrie (1988).

Results and discussion

Growth rate

Table 1 shows the seasonal growth rate and annual average of five commercial alfalfa varieties. Statistical difference between them being Jupiter, Atlixco, Via lactea and San Miguelito which showed the highest growth rates with an average of 50.7 kg DM ha-1 d-1, whereas Cuf 101 had the lowest average growth rate with 37 kg DM ha-1 d-1 (p< 0.05) were recorded. Overall, a marked seasonality in the growth rate was observed, with the following descending order: summer> spring> autumn> winter with 70, 50, 46 and 25 kg DM ha-1 d-1, respectively (p< 0.05). These results can be attributed to growth rate increases as optimal temperatures for alfalfa growth are present (Rojas et al., 2012). During the spring and summer season, optimum temperatures (Figure 1) were present, which benefited the growth and productivity of all varieties tested.

Table 1 Seasonal changes in growth rate (kg DM ha-1 d-1) from five alfalfa varieties. 

Variedad Verano Otoño Invierno Primavera Promedio
San Miguelito 71 Aa 44 ABb 25 ABc 48 Ab 47 AB
Júpiter 80 Aa 54 Ab 30 Ac 60 Ab 56 A
Atlixco 74 Aa 48 Ab 28 Ac 54 Ab 51 A
Vía Láctea 74 Aa 47 ABb 28 Ac 47 Ab 49 AB
Cuf 101 53 Ba 35 Bb 16 Bc 42 Aab 37 B
Promedio 70 a 46 b 25 c 50 b

abcd= Medias con la misma literal minúscula en una misma hilera, no son diferentes (p> 0.05). ABCD= Medias con la misma literal mayúscula en una misma columna, no son diferentes (p> 0.05).

Zaragoza et al. (2009) when studying alfalfa associated with orchardgrass report the highest average growth rate in spring (95 kg DM ha-1 d-1) and was 22% higher than that observed in summer and autumn and 83% to winter; this is attributed to that in this season the highest average monthly temperature, solar radiation and daylight hours were present and coincided with the largest accumulation of forage. Villegas et al. (2004) report the highest growth rate in the variety Valenciana and Oaxaca in spring with 155 and 93 kg DM ha-1 d-1, respectively, while in winter and autumn reported the lowest growth rates with 63 and 62 kg DM ha-1 d-1 for varieties Valencia and Oaxaca, respectively, differing from the results of this work.

Moreover, several researchers (Rivas et al., 2005) reported on five alfalfa varieties, an annual average growth in the following descending order: Oaxaca (98 kg DM ha-1 d-1), San Miguel (97 kg DM ha-1 d-1), Moapa (92 kg DM ha-1 d-1), Cuf 101 (74 kg DM ha-1 d-1) and Valencia (73 kg DM ha-1 d-1). The highest average growth rate from the five varieties was in July with 132 kg DM ha-1 d-1 and the lowest growth rate in January with 59 kg DM ha-1 d-1, corresponding to summer and winter seasons, respectively; results that are higher than those in the present study, however, similar to seasonal behavior. Meanwhile Hernández-Garay et al. (1992) had the highest growth rate, harvesting alfalfa every six weeks, and less if harvested every four weeks.

Intercepted radiation

Intercepted radiation was affected significantly (p< 0.05) for variety and season (Table 2). Varieties with higher intercepted radiation were Jupiter, Via lactea, Atlixco and San Miguelito with an average of 83.7%, while the lowest annual average value was for Cuf 101 with 71%. Overall, it was observed for all varieties a seasonal trend (p< 0.05), with the following average values: 88, 87, 79 and 69% for summer, spring, autumn and winter, respectively.

Table 2 Seasonal changes in intercepted radiation (%) of five alfalfa varieties. 

Variedad Verano Otoño Invierno Primavera Promedio
San Miguelito 88 Ba 80 ABb 65 Bc 85 BCab 80 AB
Júpiter 95 Aa 82 Ab 80 Ab 93 Aa 88 A
Atlixco 86 Bab 80 Ab 72 ABc 90 ABa 82 AB
Vía Láctea 90 Ba 82 Ab 76 Ab 90 ABa 85 A
Cuf 101 81 Ca 73 Bb 52 Cc 78 Cab 71 C
Promedio 88 a 79 b 69 c 87 a

abcd= Medias con la misma literal minúscula en una misma hilera, no son diferentes (p> 0.05). ABCD= Medias con la misma literal mayúscula en una misma columna, no son diferentes (p> 0.05).

Only 95% of intercepted radiation in the variety Jupiter in summer season was reached, as several authors (Da Silva and Nascimento, 2007; Da Silva and Hernández-Garay, 2010) mention that it must harvest the forage at 95% of intercepted radiation, however, as long as plant density is competitive (Mattera et al., 2013), and in this study plant density decreased, probably due to the time of the prairie, since it had two years of established and the average lifespan of alfalfa grasslands in Valley of Mexico is 3 years, when performed annually between 9 and 11 cuts (Amendola et al., 2005). Similar results reported several researchers (Mendoza et al., 2010; Rojas et al., 2012) in alfalfa, where the highest average intercepted radiation was in summer and the lowest in winter.

Moreover, Mattera et al. (2013) when studying the importance of the distance between alfalfa plants found in the spring season the highest intercepted radiation at all distances between plants evaluated (10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 cm) with 95%; while in summer and winter only reached 95% of intercepted radiation at 10 and 15 cm. Several authors (Mattera et al., 2013; Baldissera et al., 2014) recorded that the lower the separation between plants higher yield, intercepted radiation and leaf area index.


Table 3 presents seasonal changes in leaf area index of five alfalfa varieties. Statistical differences between varieties (p< 0.05) were observed, being variety Milenia with 5.2 which recorded the highest average; in contrast the variety that had the lowest average was Cuf 101 with 2.8. Also statistical differences between seasons (p< 0.05) were observed, with the following descending order for the average of the five varieties: summer 5.4> spring 4.4 > autumn 3.6> winter 2.1. Studies performed in alfalfa (Hernandez-Garay et al., 1992) show that the largest leaf area is recorded when harvested at 6 and 8 weeks, compared with the harvest at 4 weeks.

Table 3 Seasonal changes in Leaf Area Index of five alfalfa varieties. 

Variedad Verano Otoño Invierno Primavera Promedio
San Miguelito 5.6 Aa 3.6 Bb 2 ABc 4.3 Bab 3.9 B
Júpiter 6.4 Aa 4.8 Ab 2.8 Ac 5.8 Aa 5 A
Atlixco 5.6 Aa 3.5 Bb 2.4 ABc 4.7 Ba 4.1 B
Vía Láctea 5.5 Aa 3.2 Bbc 2.2 ABc 4.3 Bb 3.8 BC
Cuf 101 4 Ba 2.9 Bb 1.2 Bc 3 Cb 2.8 C
Promedio 5.4 a 3.6 bc 2.1 c 4.4 b

abcd= Medias con la misma literal minúscula en una misma hilera, no son diferentes (p> 0.05). ABCD= Medias con la misma literal mayúscula en una misma columna, no son diferentes (p> 0.05).

Abusuwar and Daur (2014) in a study comparing two alfalfa varieties with different doses of organic fertilizer and urea, mention that variety Cuf-101 had greater leaf area index in all cuts with an average of 4.4 compared to variety Hegazi with 4.1, when fertilized with four tons of manure and 120 kg ha-1 of urea. Mattera et al. (2013) studied the distance between alfalfa plants, finding at a distance of 10 to 30 cm the highest (4.1) and lowest (2.87) leaf area index. These authors also reported that during the spring and summer the highest rate of leaf area index was present when the separation between plants was 15 cm (3.03) and the lowest with a separation of 30 cm (1.86).

Mendoza et al., (2010) when evaluating different cut frequency in alfalfa variety San Miguelito, found that the highest leaf area per stem occurred in summer in the cut at 5 weeks, with an average value of 108 cm2 stem-1, value that was similar to that obtained at 6 weeks (105 cm2 stem-1); while the lowest leaf area (17 cm2 stem-1) occurred in winter, in the interval cut at 4 weeks, observing that leaf area per stem increased as cut frequency reduced. Pérez et al. (2002) mention that leaf area is one of the main variables that affect growth of forage species to favor changes in photosynthetic activity. Also, mention that the leaf area varies with light intensity and the time of year, the most demanding species of light have a greater leaf area, in addition to high concentrations of N in the leaves.

Villegas et al. (2004) in two alfalfa varieties reported increased leaf area index as growth rate and age of regrowth, to reach a maximum and then decrease gradually as a result of the falling leaves from the lower strata. In variety Valenciana the best leaf area index was 2.6, 2.3, 1.4 and 1.4 for winter, spring, summer and autumn, respectively. A similar trend presented the variety Oaxaca where the maximum leaf area index were the following descending order: winter (2.2)> spring (2.1)> summer (1.3)> autumn (1.1).

Plant height

Table 4 shows the average seasonal and annual height of 5 alfalfa varieties. Regardless of the season Jupiter recorded the highest average height 52 cm, in contrast Cuf 101 with 41 cm has the lowest height (p< 0.05). Statistical differences between seasons (p< 0.05) were observed; the highest height was recorded in summer, followed by spring, autumn and winter with 61, 57, 49 and 27 cm, respectively. In this regard, Ramos and Hernández (1970) recommend that for the Valley of Mexico, the highest yield of alfalfa will be achieved with cuts at a plant height of 65 cm in summer and 32 cm in winter and an interval between cuts of 40 days. Morales et al. (2006) found in 14 varieties an average height of 58 cm, having Puebla 76 the largest height with 68.9 cm and higher yield.

Table 4 Seasonal changes in height (cm) of five alfalfa varieties. 

Variedad Verano Otoño Invierno Primavera Promedio
San Miguelito 61 Aa 46 BCc 27 BCd 56 Ab 48 BC
Júpiter 64 Aa 54 Ab 32 Ac 61 Aa 53 A
Atlixco 62 Aa 50 ABb 27 BCc 59 Aa 50 AB
Vía Láctea 63 Aa 54 Ab 28 ABc 58 Aab 51 AB
Cuf 101 55 Ba 40 Cc 23 Cd 49 Bb 42 C
Promedio 61 a 49 c 27 d 57 b

abcd= Medias con la misma literal minúscula en una misma hilera, no son diferentes (p> 0.05). ABCD= Medias con la misma literal mayúscula en una misma columna, no son diferentes (p> 0.05).

Also, Hernández-Garay et al. (1992) reported a height of 58 cm with spaced cuts every eight weeks and 40 cm in cuts made every four to six weeks. According to Muslera and Ratera (1991) forage yield and increase in height, it increases when the interval between cuts is longer, more than five weeks. Avci et al. (2013) reported in 7 alfalfa varieties, in two years of production and in two locations, at average height of 66 cm and a production of 21 710 kg DM ha-1, being variety Verko which obtained the highest height with 77.2 cm, higher yield and growth rate in the second year of production.

Intercepted radiation ratio between growth rate, leaf area index and plant height

Table 5 shows the regression coefficients (R2) between intercepted radiation and growth rate, leaf area index and plant height of five commercial alfalfa varieties. All varieties showed a close relationship between intercepted radiation and growth rate, leaf area index and plant height, the greater intercepted radiation the higher was growth rate, leaf area index and plant height. Growth rate varied between seasons (Table 1) and the main factors were temperature and light hours since during spring and summer recorded the highest temperatures and had the highest intercepted radiation, growth rate, leaf area index and plant height, contrary to winter, where the lowest intercepted radiation, growth rate, leaf area index and plant height were observed. In this regard, it has been mentioned that as leaf area index increases the amount of intercepted radiation, and thus the growth rate increases (Horrocks and Vallentines, 1999; Sage and Kubein, 2007).

Table 5 Regression coefficient (R2) of intercepted radiation (RI) between growth rate (TC), leaf area index (LAI) and plant height (AP) from five alfalfa varieties. 

Variedad RI vs TC(R2) Sig. RI vs IAF (R2) Sig. RI vs AP (R2) Sig.
(R2) (R2) (R2)
San Miguelito 0.8293 *** 0.9188 *** 0.9899 ****
Júpiter 0.7564 ** 0.8173 ** 0.7153 **
Atlixco 0.6258 * 0.7813 ** 0.8841 ***
Vía Láctea 0.6437 * 0.8783 *** 0.8423 ***
Cuf 101 0.9341 **** 0.9306 **** 0.9591 ****
Promedio 0.7055 ** 0.7938 *** 0.7652 **

* p< 0.05; ** p< 0.01; *** p< 0.001; **** p< 0.0001; Sig= significativo; RI= radiación interceptada; TC= tasa de crecimiento; IAF= índice de área foliar; AP= altura de planta.

Several authors mention (Pearson and Ison, 1987; Horrocks and Vallentine, 1999) that the capacity that a prairie has to produce dry matter, depends on environmental conditions (nutrients, climate) and especially from the degree of light interception by leaves. With the increase in the number of leaves, it has greater light interception, but the leaves on the lower strata receive less intensity and light quality of light, which cause reduced growth or net assimilation rate; therefore, the highest fodder yield, coincides with the highest rate of leaf area and the largest green leaf mass (Donald and Black, 1958; Velasco et al., 2001; Morales et al., 2006). After reaching the optimal leaf area index, basal leaves do not receive enough light, becoming yellowed and senescent leaves, which come to die and in such case, can have a net negative growth (Hodgson, 1990).


The highest growth rate, intercepted radiation, leaf area index and plant height is for Jupiter and lowest to Cuf 101. Only the variety Jupiter reached 95% of intercepted radiation in the summer season. All varieties have a higher growth rate, radiation interception, leaf area index and plant height in spring-summer and lower in autumn-winter. There is a high positive correlation in all alfalfa varieties between the intercepted radiation and growth rate, leaf area index and plant height. The greater intercepted radiation the higher will be growth rate, leaf area index and plant height and vice versa.

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Received: August 2016; Accepted: December 2016

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