Monday, August 8, 2016

'Got Hay' & 'A Bale A Day' Are Nice Slogans But Alfalfa Does Well on Its Own in California

Alfalfa harvesters are busy working the fields, chalking up another cutting for the season, reports field scout Carlos. As we head toward fall, the cuttings will be winding down along with the quality of the hay.

Alfalfa is one of the top 10 crops economically in California.
Carlos points out some growers will try to squeeze out a final harvest before the weather turns cooler. You have to give alfalfa farmers credit – they have been sticking with the crop through the last five years of drought.

You might ask why stick with alfalfa?

It is a thirsty crop, using about 10 million acre feet of water, a little more than 20 percent of the water used in California. – something that doesn’t go unnoticed in a fifth year of drought.
Yet, California growers expect to harvest 870,000 acres of alfalfa this year, up 10 percent from 790,000 in 2015, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Services in California. It regularly ranks in the top 10 crops in California, with alfalfa ranking 10th with a value of $1.3 billion in 2014, according the latest statistics available.

Growers irrigate alfalfa fields after each cutting.
Call it a Steady Eddie crop without the fancy Madison Avenue slogans as the state’s top two crops – milk at $9.4 billion (remember “Got Milk”) and almonds at $5.9 billion (“A Can A Day”). It’s a sure bet you’ll never hear “Got Hay” or “A Bale a Day is All We Ask” slogans over the air waves.
The bottom line, Carlos says, “Farmers need alfalfa for feed.” 

Yes, farmers tout the value of growing this perennial crop, which can last several years. (Carlos has seen one alfalfa field remain productive for six years.) The crop supports the dairy industry and its more than 5 million cows across the state. Beef cattle and horses feed on it too. Alfalfa is considered the premier feed.

There are other benefits.

Dairy cows love to feed on alfalfa.
Alfalfa is a legume and like beans the crop puts nitrogen back into the ground.  By feeding the soil, alfalfa makes for a good rotation crop. Alfalfa also is good for wildlife, housing insects for birds to feed on.

Right now, Carlos reports the alfalfa harvest is in full swing. Growers were cutting last week and more will follow suit. Pests aren’t a major problem – although Carlos is keeping a keen eye out for worms.

“Alfalfa is going strong. It looks like we have another month or more to go this season,” Carlos says.

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