The government’s long-term biofuel goal calls for 1 billion tons of biofuel to come from agricultural and forestry products by 2030. And perennial crops — like alfalfa   — could help supply a sizeable portion of that goal, says Neal Martin, director of the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wis.

Interestingly, the USDA has developed a biomass alfalfa that can be harvested at much later maturity stages, which allows for a 40 percent increase in stem yields compared to traditional hay varieties. This could theoretically double the gallons of cellulosic ethanol produced per acre of biomass. Greater yields also could mean fewer cuttings per season and lower harvest cost.

Researchers are now looking at how to separate the alfalfa leaves from the stems in the field.

There is a significant size difference between conventional alfalfa and the new biomass alfalfa developed by USDA. This translates in a 40 percent increase in stem yields.