New Mexico State University researchers are using genetic analysis to help develop more drought-tolerant alfalfa varieties after the past year left many states parched from months of drought. The research is expected to help farmers in drought-prone areas of the Great Plains or the western U.S., which were particularly hard-hit in 2011.

Researchers are NMSU have been working to develop hardier alfalfa plants for more than three decades. They have recently identified a series of DNA markers on alfalfa chromosomes that they believe play a key role in producing more alfalfa with less water, according to an article from the Associated Press.

The AP reported that the research team just wrapped up its harvest of the first test crops grown with less water and the results are promising. All the plants had smaller yields because of the lack of water, but those with drought-tolerant DNA markers produced 9 percent to 15 percent more than those without the markers.

"If what we're seeing is real, and it can be demonstrated that we see a yield advantage in multiple environments, then we've got a high forage quality population with enhanced drought resistance. That's the best of both worlds," Ian Ray, the professor who runs NMSU's alfalfa breeding and genetics program told AP.

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