Lucerne, also known as alfalfa, is a highly nutritious forage crop that is popular among farmers in Kenya. It is a legume that is rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins, making it an excellent choice for livestock feed. However, growing Lucerne in Kenya can be a challenge due to the country’s diverse climatic conditions and soil types.
Despite the challenges, Lucerne farming has great potential in Kenya, especially in areas with favorable climatic and soil conditions. Farmers who successfully grow Lucerne can benefit from its high yields, fast growth rate, and ability to fix nitrogen in the soil. Additionally, Lucerne can be used for hay production, silage, and as a green manure crop to improve soil fertility.
In this article, we will provide a comprehensive guide on how to grow Lucerne in Kenya. We will cover the best practices for site selection, soil preparation, seed selection, planting, and maintenance. By following these guidelines, farmers can increase their chances of success and reap the benefits of this highly nutritious and versatile crop.
Lucerne is a crop that can grow in a wide range of climatic conditions, but it performs best in areas with moderate temperatures and good rainfall. The ideal temperature range for Lucerne growth is between 15°C and 25°C, with an average annual rainfall of 600-800mm. The crop can tolerate temperatures as low as -10°C and as high as 35°C, but extreme temperatures can affect its growth and yield.
In Kenya, lucerne is mainly grown in high altitude regions such as the central highlands, the Rift Valley, and parts of Western Kenya. These areas have a cool climate with moderate rainfall, which is suitable for lucerne growth. However, lucerne can also be grown in low altitude areas with irrigation, especially during the dry season.
Lucerne is a drought-tolerant crop, but it requires adequate moisture during the establishment phase. The crop should be planted at the onset of the rainy season to ensure that it gets enough moisture for germination and early growth. In areas with erratic rainfall, it is advisable to use irrigation to supplement the natural rainfall.
It is important to note that lucerne is sensitive to waterlogging, and therefore, it should not be grown in areas with poor drainage. The crop also requires good soil fertility, with a pH range of 6.0-7.5. Soil testing should be done before planting to determine the nutrient status of the soil and the appropriate fertilizers to use.
Lucerne is a crop that requires well-drained soils with a pH of 6.5-7.5. The soil should be deep, fertile, and rich in organic matter. Before planting, it is important to prepare the soil properly to ensure good growth and high yields.
The following are the steps to prepare the soil for Lucerne:
- Soil Testing: It is important to test the soil to determine its pH, nutrient content, and other properties. This will help you determine the type and amount of fertilizers to use.
- Deep Ploughing: The soil should be ploughed to a depth of at least 30cm to break up hardpans and improve soil aeration and drainage.
- Weed Control: Weed control is important to ensure that the lucerne crop is not choked by weeds. The soil should be cleared of all weeds before planting.
- Fertilizer Application: Lucerne requires a lot of nutrients to grow well. Based on the soil test results, apply the recommended amount of fertilizers such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
- Organic Matter: Lucerne thrives in soils rich in organic matter. Incorporate well-rotted manure or compost into the soil before planting to improve soil fertility and structure.
By following these steps, you can prepare the soil properly for lucerne and ensure good growth and high yields.
Seed Selection and Planting
Choosing the right seed is crucial for a successful Lucerne crop. The ideal seed should be pure, free from weeds, and disease-resistant. It’s recommended to source seeds from reputable dealers or certified seed producers to ensure quality.
Before planting, it’s essential to prepare the land adequately. Lucerne thrives in well-drained soils with a pH range of 6.0-7.5. The soil should be plowed, harrowed, and leveled to create a fine seedbed. It’s also recommended to add organic manure or fertilizers to improve soil fertility.
Planting should be done during the rainy season when there is enough moisture to support germination and growth. The recommended planting rate is 15-20 kg per acre, and the seed should be planted at a depth of 2-3 cm. The seed should be evenly distributed and covered with soil, and then compacted using a roller or a tractor to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.
After planting, it’s crucial to monitor the crop regularly to ensure proper growth and development. Weeds should be controlled using appropriate herbicides or manual weeding, and pests and diseases should be managed using recommended methods to prevent damage to the crop.
In summary, selecting the right seed and proper planting practices are critical for a successful Lucerne crop. By following these guidelines, farmers in Kenya can improve their yields and increase their income from Lucerne farming.
Lucerne requires adequate nutrients to grow well and produce high yields. Fertilization is, therefore, an essential aspect of lucerne farming. Proper fertilization helps to maintain healthy and vigorous plants, increase yield, and improve the quality of the forage.
Before planting lucerne, it is essential to conduct a soil test to determine the soil’s nutrient status. Based on the soil test results, you can then apply the appropriate fertilizer to correct any nutrient deficiencies. In general, lucerne requires a balanced fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
During the establishment phase, it is recommended to apply a high-phosphorus fertilizer to promote root growth and development. A fertilizer with a ratio of 1:2:1 (N:P:K) is ideal during this phase. After establishment, a balanced fertilizer with a ratio of 1:1:1 (N:P:K) is recommended.
It is essential to apply the fertilizer at the right time and in the right amount to avoid over-fertilization or under-fertilization. Over-fertilization can lead to nutrient leaching, environmental pollution, and reduced plant growth, while under-fertilization can result in poor plant growth, low yields, and poor forage quality.
It is also important to note that lucerne fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere through symbiotic nitrogen fixation with rhizobia bacteria. Therefore, it is recommended to inoculate the seeds with the appropriate rhizobia strain before planting to enhance nitrogen fixation and reduce the need for nitrogen fertilization.
In summary, proper fertilization is crucial for successful lucerne farming. Conduct a soil test to determine the soil’s nutrient status, apply the appropriate fertilizer at the right time and in the right amount, and inoculate the seeds with the appropriate rhizobia strain to enhance nitrogen fixation.
Lucerne requires sufficient water to grow well, and in Kenya, where the rainfall is often unpredictable, irrigation is necessary for successful lucerne cultivation. When planning irrigation, it is important to consider the water source, the irrigation system to be used, and the amount of water required by the crop.
There are various irrigation systems that can be used for lucerne cultivation in Kenya. These include:
- Sprinkler irrigation: This system involves spraying water over the crop using sprinklers. It is an efficient system as it minimizes water wastage and ensures that the water reaches the crop evenly.
- Drip irrigation: This system involves applying water directly to the roots of the crop using drip lines. It is a water-efficient system as it minimizes water wastage and ensures that the water is used efficiently by the crop.
- Flood irrigation: This system involves flooding the field with water. It is a less efficient system as it results in water wastage and uneven distribution of water.
When deciding on the irrigation system to use, it is important to consider the water source. If the water source is limited, drip irrigation may be the best option as it is the most water-efficient system. If the water source is abundant, sprinkler irrigation may be the best option as it is efficient and ensures even distribution of water.
The amount of water required by the crop varies depending on the stage of growth. During the establishment phase, the crop requires more water, and irrigation should be done more frequently. Once the crop is established, irrigation can be done less frequently, but the amount of water applied should be sufficient to meet the crop’s needs.
It is important to note that over-irrigation can lead to waterlogging and root rot, which can affect the growth and yield of the crop. Therefore, it is important to monitor the soil moisture levels regularly and adjust the irrigation schedule accordingly.
Weeds can be a major problem in Lucerne production. They compete with the crop for nutrients, water, and light. Therefore, adequate weed control measures must be put in place to ensure optimal Lucerne growth and yield. Here are some effective weed control methods:
- Cultural Control: This involves the use of practices that reduce weed growth and spread. These practices include crop rotation, planting Lucerne in clean fields, and timely cutting of Lucerne to prevent weed seed formation.
- Mechanical Control: This involves the use of tools and equipment to physically remove weeds from the Lucerne crop. Some of the commonly used mechanical control methods include hand weeding, hoeing, and mechanical cultivation.
- Chemical Control: This involves the use of herbicides to control weeds in Lucerne. It is important to use herbicides that are registered for use in Lucerne and to follow the recommended application rates and timings. It is also important to rotate herbicides to prevent the development of herbicide-resistant weeds.
It is important to note that weed control should be integrated with other pest and disease control measures to ensure optimal Lucerne growth and yield. Additionally, it is important to follow good agricultural practices such as proper crop rotation, timely irrigation, and fertilization to minimize weed growth and spread.
Pest and Disease Management
Lucerne is a hardy crop that can tolerate a wide range of pests and diseases. However, it is still important to keep an eye out for any potential issues and take action to prevent or treat them. Here are some common pests and diseases that can affect Lucerne in Kenya:
- Aphids: These small insects suck sap from the plant, causing stunted growth and yellowing leaves. They can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem oil.
- Cutworms: These caterpillars feed on the stem of the plant, causing it to wilt and die. They can be controlled with Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) or a similar biological pesticide.
- Armyworms: These caterpillars feed on the leaves of the plant, causing defoliation. They can be controlled with BT or a chemical insecticide.
- Fusarium wilt: This fungal disease causes yellowing and wilting of the leaves, and can eventually kill the plant. It can be prevented by planting disease-resistant varieties and practicing crop rotation.
- Anthracnose: This fungal disease causes brown spots on the leaves and stems, and can also cause defoliation. It can be prevented by practicing good crop hygiene and using fungicides if necessary.
- Rust: This fungal disease causes orange or brown spots on the leaves, and can also cause defoliation. It can be prevented by planting disease-resistant varieties and practicing good crop hygiene.
It is important to monitor your Lucerne crop regularly for any signs of pests or diseases, and take action as soon as possible to prevent them from spreading. In addition to the methods mentioned above, you can also use cultural practices such as proper irrigation and fertilization to help keep your crop healthy and resistant to pests and diseases.
Harvesting and Utilization
Harvesting of Lucerne should be done at the right time to ensure maximum yield. The first cut should be done when the plant reaches a height of 60-70 cm, which is about 60-70 days after planting. Subsequent cuts should be done at intervals of 4-6 weeks, depending on the growth rate of the plant. The best time to cut Lucerne is in the morning when the dew has dried up, as this reduces the loss of leaves during handling.
After harvesting, the plant material should be dried to a moisture content of 15-20% to prevent spoilage. The drying process can be done by spreading the plant material in the sun or by using a mechanical dryer. Once the plant material is dry, it can be baled, stacked or stored in a silo for future use.
Lucerne is a versatile crop that can be used in various ways. It can be used as animal feed, as green manure, or for soil conservation. When used as animal feed, Lucerne can be fed fresh or as hay. Fresh Lucerne is highly palatable and contains high levels of protein, minerals, and vitamins. Hay, on the other hand, is a convenient way of storing Lucerne for future use. It is important to note that the quality of hay is dependent on the stage of maturity at which the plant was harvested. Lucerne that is harvested at the vegetative stage has higher nutrient content than that harvested at the flowering stage.
In addition to being used as animal feed, Lucerne can be used as green manure. Green manure is a practice where plant material is incorporated into the soil to improve soil fertility. Lucerne is a leguminous plant that fixes nitrogen in the soil, making it an ideal green manure crop. When used as green manure, Lucerne should be incorporated into the soil at the flowering stage to ensure maximum nitrogen fixation.
Finally, Lucerne can be used for soil conservation. Its deep root system helps to improve soil structure and prevent soil erosion. The plant also helps to improve water infiltration and retention in the soil, making it an ideal crop for areas prone to drought.
Also Read: How To Grow Desmodium In Kenya
Sources: Strange, R. “Observations on the Growth of Non-Irrigated Lucerne.” The East African Agricultural Journal 24.3 (1959): 171-173. Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03670074.1959.11665201
Miriko, Mutuerandu C., Nicholas K. Korir, and Joseph P. Gweyi-Onyango. “Benefits of Rhizobial Inoculation and Phosphorus Application on Growth of Lucerne (Medicago sativa) in Kenya.” International Journal of Plant & Soil Science 21.6 (2018): 1-7. Link: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Joseph-Gweyi/publication/323696838_Benefits_of_Rhizobial_Inoculation_and_Phosphorus_Application_on_Growth_of_Lucerne_Medicago-sativa_in_Kenya/links/5b8510494585151fd1371f19/Benefits-of-Rhizobial-Inoculation-and-Phosphorus-Application-on-Growth-of-Lucerne-Medicago-sativa-in-Kenya.pdf