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Yellow-flowered alfalfa (Medicago sativa subsp. falcata) (also known as sickle medic) has been the cornerstone for breeding alfalfa for dual grazing and hay production in the semiarid regions of the northern Great Plains in the US and Canada. Most, if not all, of the cultivars developed for the northern Great Plains during the 20th century, had parentage tracing back to introductions by Niels Ebbesen Hansen that were obtained from expeditions to Russia, primarily the province of Siberia, on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture during the early 1900s. The M. falcata genome contains alleles for high levels of drought-tolerance, winter hardiness, and tolerance to grazing, but is generally deficient for commercial seed production traits, such as non-shatter, compared with common alfalfa (M. sativa). A naturalized population, tracing to USDA plant introductions to Perkins County South Dakota by N.E. Hansen in early 1900, and subsequently, facilitated by the determined seed increase and interseeding of a population by a local rancher, Norman ‘Bud’ Smith, has shown highly desirable in situ characteristics for improving rangelands in the northern Great Plains. This includes adequate seed production to build a seed bank in the soil for natural seedling recruitment and population maintenance/expansion and support the production of a commercial seed source. This review documents the seminal events in the development of cultivars to date and describes novel germplasm with potential for new cultivars in the future.
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Boe, Arvid A.; Kephart, Kevin D.; Berdahl, John D.; Peel, Mike D.; Brummer, E. Charles; Xu, Lan; and Wu, Yajun, "Breeding Alfalfa for Semiarid Regions in the Northern Great Plains: History and Additional Genetic Evaluations of Novel Germplasm" (2020). Natural Resource Management Faculty Publications. 304.