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Keywords:

  • lucerne;
  • China;
  • harvest;
  • biomass;
  • protein

Abstract

The current promotion of larger areas of lucerne (Medicago sativa) production on the Loess Plateau in China prompted this study, which investigated lucerne harvesting practices by farmers and the scope for improved harvest yield and quality by optimizing harvest date, interval and height above ground. On-farm surveys were conducted to document the dominant harvesting practices used by farmers and their perceptions of barriers to adoption of alternative harvesting practices. In districts with less emphasis on livestock, less labour and inadequate facilities to store conserved lucerne, smaller areas of lucerne are grown and it is often harvested daily to meet demand from penned livestock. The consequence is that much of the lucerne is harvested either before or after flowering, resulting in suboptimal yield of biomass and crude protein. Field experiments conducted at low and high rainfall locations on the Loess Plateau over three seasons showed that delaying the start to harvest until after mid-June (the date of first flowering), while not affecting total biomass harvested for the season, does reduce leaf biomass harvested and hence crude protein concentration and yield. Lower crude protein is a consequence of a decline in both leaf percentage in harvested biomass and stem nitrogen concentration. Commencing harvests well before flowering with short (3 week) harvest intervals also penalized total and leaf biomass harvested. Raising cutting height from ground level (current farmer practice) to 50 mm (likely with the advent of mechanized harvesting) did not penalize harvested total or leaf biomass.