With the recent deregulation of Roundup Ready® alfalfa, questions have come up about using alfalfa in waterways and other non-crop areas adjacent to fields which will have Roundup Ready crops. This could simplify weed control in these areas.
This practice could ease the burden of having to spray around waterways or turning sprayers on and off around these areas. Also, glyphosate drift would become less of a concern around these areas.
While this is a great idea, before you rush out and order your Roundup Ready alfalfa, we suggest you take a minute to think about the potential downsides of doing this.
Alfalfa is a broadleaf plant that does not establish as dense a root system near the soil surface as many of the grass species which are currently used in these areas. This means that there is less root biomass near the soil surface to hold the soil in place.
Alfalfa does not establish as dense a canopy as many of the grass species currently grown in these areas. The dense above-ground biomass of the grasses slows soil erosion and can trap soil particles which are being washed away.
Planting alfalfa alone in these areas may disqualify the area for conservation programs such as the NRCS/FSA program. If you are interested in planting Roundup Ready alfalfa into waterways, use a mixture of 20% alfalfa and 80% grass species to stay in compliance with the NRCS/FSA rules.
Mixing grass species with Roundup Ready alfalfa, even if you are not enrolled in the NRCS program, will provide some of the benefits described above. If waterways are within or adjacent to fields where glyphosate (Roundup) will be applied, having some Roundup Ready alfalfa in the seed mix will protect the land if drift or accidental applications over the waterway do occur.
The use of Roundup Ready alfalfa does not negate the need for careful and accurate pesticide applications. Environmental stewardship should continue to be at the forefront of all pesticide applications.
Using Roundup Ready alfalfa in non-crop areas such as waterways will, however, provide an insurance tool to prevent the exposure of bare ground in areas around fields which may receive glyphosate applications.
Before using Roundup Ready alfalfa, check with the NRCS or other parties who have a vested interest in these areas.