Alfalfa

Alfalfa

BY Kurt Nolte

• Yuma County is known for growing alfalfa with about 32,000 irrigated acres valued in 2012 at more than $55 million.

• While production of alfalfa seed is a small part of the total alfalfa production here, this area is considered prime for growing the seed crop with its dry weather and long growing season. Alfalfa seed produced here is exported worldwide.

• Alfalfa seeds are very small (1-2 millimeters), slightly wider than the tip of a pencil lead. There are about 200,000 alfalfa seeds per pound.

• The approximate yield of U.S. alfalfa seed in 2005 was 135 million pounds with an average price of $190 per 100 pounds of seed, thus the estimated value of alfalfa seed is $218.5 million. A fringe benefit to the production of alfalfa seed is the production of honey from bees. In the U.S., $147.7 million dollars worth of honey is produced each year.

• Alfalfa is also important for soil enrichment because of its ability to gather available nitrogen from the air. On average, an acre of alfalfa will fix about 450 pounds of nitrogen per year, thus reducing the need to apply expensive nitrogen fertilizers for following crops.

• In the U.S., there are 23.6 million acres of alfalfa cut for hay with an average yield of 3.3 tons per acre. The average yield in Yuma County is three times the national average with more than 9.2 tons per acres. The record yield for irrigated alfalfa is 24 tons per acre.

• Alfalfa is one of the most important forages for livestock because of its high protein, vitamins, energy and digestibility. Alfalfa can be used whenever herbivores need high quality diet for growth, stamina, strength and the production of meat, milk, wool, eggs or feathers.

• It is even used by humans for nutritional tablets and alfalfa sprouts. According to the International Sprout Growers, approximately $250 million dollars worth of sprouts was sold in North America. Alfalfa juice also is used in some health food products. And because it’s very high in fiber, it is often formulated as dietary supplement in different forms such as tea and tablet. In various places, the leaves are eaten as a vegetable.

• Alfalfa’s rise to great economic prominence is attracting new technology, specifically herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Many are optimistic that this technology will produce terrific yields and quality as there is no weed competition with the transgenic alfalfa. Also, some of the standard herbicides that can stunt the early growth of a new stand aren’t needed.

• In addition to the traditional uses of alfalfa as an animal feed, alfalfa is beginning to be used as a biofuel for the production of electricity, bioremediation of soils with high levels of nitrogen and as a factory for the production of industrial enzymes.

Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at knolte@cals.arizona.edu or (928) 726-3904. For additional information please visit https://extension.arizona.edu/yuma.