Traffic during alfalfa harvest operations can cause soil compaction and damage to newly growing stems. Root exploration for soil water and nutrients, forage growth dynamics, and final yield can all be affected. The objectives of this study were to determine the long-term effects of harvest traffic and soil compaction on water-use efficiency (WUE) of alfalfa grown in a Wasco sandy loam (coarse-loamy, mixed, nonacid, thermic Typic Torriorthents). Alfalfa was planted into tilled soil and managed with or without harvest traffic. Plants subjected to traffic during harvest had a significantly lower WUE two out of the three years studied compared to plants that were never subject to traffic. The second experiment examined whether planting alfalfa into compacted soil and managed with or without harvest traffic altered WUE. Soil compaction had no affect on alfalfa WUE. It was significantly lower when grown in compacted soil and subjected to harvest traffic. It is suggested that the decrease in WUE caused by harvest traffic may be explained by plants allocating carbohydrates to damaged shoots and crowns instead of to above ground forage production. The area of the field affected by harvest traffic, which damages newly growing stems, should be minimized to increase crop water use efficiency.
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