Pioneer is working with three organizations to increase alfalfa cell wall digestibility and improve alfalfa nutrient utilization in cattle.

The approach will use a transgene to produce alfalfa varieties with reduced lignin, a fibrous component of the plant that animals can’t easily digest. The U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center estimates a 10 percent increase in cell wall digestibility would:

  • Increase milk and beef production by $350 million a year
  • Decrease manure production by 2.8 million metric tons per year.

In addition to improving animal performance, lower lignin levels would enhance cellulosic biofuel production significantly. Alfalfa could be a more cost-effective crop for biofuel production with this trait.

Additional environmental benefits are possible, including improved crop rotations, soil conservation, increased nitrogen fixation and increased wild habitat.