Alfalfa Can Be Exciting

No, not the boy from that TV show Little Rascals a looooong time ago. Alfalfa hay, the kind that Farmer John Sturtevant and millions of others, produce! I’ve dug up some really interesting facts about this crop that you can use to impress your guests at your next party!

Pretty flowers – and they smell good, too!

Alfalfa hay is the most cultivated forage crop in the world. It provides high amounts of protein and fiber, and can be harvested multiple times in a season, making it a very efficient crop. Additionally, alfalfa regrows each spring for years in a row, meaning that once a field is planted, it will continue to produce hay for a few years before needing re-seeding (http://www.acxpacific.com). Because if its high nutritional value, its primary use is as feed for dairy cows, followed by use as feed for beef cattle, horses, sheep, and goats.

The alfalfa is swathed and put into windrows to dry
 in the sun before baling

Humans also eat alfalfa, in the form of sprouts, or dehydrated in teas, powders and tablets. Alfalfa sprouts do contain multiple vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber (www.nlm.nih.gov).  In China, it has been used as a medicinal herb for over 1,500 years to treat disorders of the digestive system and kidneys (http://en.wikipedia.org).

It is also an ancient crop, with a chapter dedicated to it in a Roman book on agriculture, published in the 4th century AD (http://en.wikipedia.org). Alfalfa was first brought to this continent by Spanish explorers during the 16th century. It was first produced in the United States in Georgia in 1763, but did not really take off as an important crop until it was begun to be grown in the more favorable climate of California (http://www.agweb.com).

Alfalfa is a big export crop for the United States. Over 21 million acres of alfalfa are in production in the US, producing approximately 84 million tons of alfalfa. Japan is by far the largest importer of alfalfa, buying 75% of all exported US alfalfa hay. Other US alfalfa importing countries include Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates. The majority of hay grown for export is grown right in Idaho, Washington, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah, with the most (25%) coming from the Columbia River Basin of Oregon and Washington (http://www.agweb.com)

Silage tube.  Now you know.

Alfalfa is harvested just before it begins to bud, and is cut, spread out to dry in the sun, then gathered and formed into bales, some weighing up to 1 ton! Alfalfa is also often processed into silage for feeding dairy cattle. To make silage, the fresh (not dried) alfalfa is chopped and fermented in silos or in those long, white plastic tubes you might see laying in fields. The  fermentation of alfalfa allows it to retain high nutrient levels, and is  more palatable to dairy cattle than dry hay (http://en.wikipedia.org).

Young, dumb bee

Alfalfa seed production is also a big part of alfalfa growing. No seed, no alfalfa, right? Alfalfa seed production requires the presence of pollinators when the fields of alfalfa are in bloom. Getting your seed field pollinated is kind of a problem, however, since the pollen-carrying part of the alfalfa flower trips and bops pollinating bees on the head, which helps transfer the pollen to the bee. Apparently Western honey bees, the most common kind of bee, do not like being bopped in the head repeatedly and learn to defeat this action by getting the nectar from the side of the flower.  Smart bees. Because older, smarter bees do not pollinate alfalfa well, most pollination is accomplished by getting the young, dumb bees to get bopped on the head. When Western honey bees are used to pollinate alfalfa, the beekeeper has to put a bunch of hives in the field to maximize the number of young, dumb bees (http://en.wikipedia.org). Ha!

So there you have it, folks. Alfalfa! For more information, and believe me, there is lots more, see the following links:

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfalfa
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/19.html
http://www.acxpacific.com/products/alfalfa.php
http://www.agweb.com/article/alfalfa_exports_surge/

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2 Responses to Alfalfa Can Be Exciting

  1. Pingback: Our Year in Review | Kiss My Tractor

  2. Anonymous says:

    Interesting fact about the pollination process.Dawn

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