Research Helps Midwest Farmers Expand into New
Markets By Linda
April 29, 1999
WASHINGTON, April 29--Growing nitrogen-fixing alfalfa is
not only good for the soil, but it also may help Midwest farmers reap economic
benefits and supply materials for new industrial uses.
Richard G. Koegel, an agricultural engineer with
USDAs Agricultural Research Service in
Madison, Wisconsin, and University of
Wisconsin researchers are the first scientists to make lactic acid from
alfalfa. Lactic acid, now used in foods as a flavoring or preservative, could
become a key ingredient in biodegradable plastics, Koegel said.
Producing quality products from agricultural crops without
depleting our land is the cornerstone of sustainable agriculture for all
farmers--big and small, says ARS
administrator Floyd P. Horn. Sustainable agriculture helps farmers put
more money in their pockets and less into production costs for fertilizers and
Alfalfa is valuable in sustainable agriculture because it fixes
its own nitrogen. That means farmers dont have to add nitrogen
fertilizer, thus saving money. Previous ARS studies have demonstrated that
farmers can reap higher yields of corn and soybeans when they plant those crops
in rotation with alfalfa.
Extracting lactic acid from alfalfa would give farmers added
incentive to grow the crop. Lactic acid is now made synthetically with
chemicals or organically as a byproduct of corn fermentation. More than half of
the U.S. lactic acid market--about 50,000 tons--is currently imported.
Koegel has devised a method for making lactic acid from alfalfa
fiber, which is left after the juice is extracted from fresh herbage. His
laboratory trials have produced yields of lactic acid as high as 60 percent.
Koegel is based at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center on
the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Cooperative research
between ARS and the University of Wisconsin has also produced industrially
valuable enzymes from transgenic alfalfa. After extracting the juice from fresh
herbage, the researchers have made other high-value products, including food-
and feed-grade proteins, and nutritionally valuable substances called
carotenoids. All these products from alfalfa have a value between $1,000 to
$2,000 per acre annually.
A story about the lactic acid research appears in the May issue of
ARS monthly magazine. The article is available on the web at:
Scientific contact: Richard G. Koegel,
ARS U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, Madison, Wis., 53706, phone (608)
264-5149, fax (608) 264-5275, firstname.lastname@example.org.