HPJ’s Alfalfa U farmer panel delves into varieties and irrigation

High Plains Journal’s Virtual Alfalfa U concluded with a fourth session—titled Tailgate Talk—on March 11, which included the ever-popular farmer panel. The panelists included: Andrew Eddie of RNH Farms in Moses Lake, Washington; Darrin Eck of Eck Ag Services in Kingman, Kansas; and David DeHaan of Revolution Soil and Seed in Fort Lupton, Colorado.

Eddie, who farms 8,500 acres in the Columbian Basin of Washington state, raises a mixture of alfalfa and grass mostly for export markets and some domestic customers. Eck has a diversified cropping operation where he plants cotton, wheat, sorghum and alfalfa on rotation. Additionally, Eck’s operation includes a cow-calf herd and a retail chemical and fertilizer business. A dryland farmer, Eck’s alfalfa is sold to customers in the East. Additionally, he utilizes alfalfa because it is a cash crop that also benefits his commodity rotations like cotton and milo. DeHaan operates a 5,000-head dairy and raises alfalfa exclusively for his cows. Additionally, his alfalfa seed business matches farmers with forage and alfalfa varieties that meet their needs.

To kick off the farmer panel, the producers were asked how they select seed to plant and what they look for in an alfalfa variety. Eddie said the Washington State Hay Growers Association works with Washington State University to produce variety trials and he often uses those results as a loose guideline, while also consulting with his seed salesman and agronomist.

“The nice thing about the export market is that there is a wide range of customers for any type of hay, so we shoot for that fine line where we’re getting the most yield and best quality,” Eddie said.

Eck looks for winter hardiness and varieties that can handle diverse Kansas weather and go from really hot and dry to having a lot of moisture. Furthermore, Eck said herbicides and keeping crops clean every year is a key for his operation. He pays close attention to the grasses in the mid to late summer, because that really extends his fields out.

“We try to get eight years and then once the grass starts taking over to the point where a couple chemical applications can’t keep it down, it ends up being more cow hay,” he said.

Since he raises hay for his dairy, quality is the most important aspect for DeHaan.

“We need a consistent supply of quality alfalfa that we can feed day in and day out,” DeHaan said. “For relative feed value, we want to be at 185 to 190-plus for anything we are going to be putting into our dairy cows. Everything else we consider low-grade heifer or dry-cow feed.”

When irrigation was brought up, the panel had a diverse range of responses. Eddie, who uses the Columbia River to irrigate his alfalfa, said irrigation is a given for his operation, but it comes down to how much investment it will take and the profit that can be made.

“It’s all about cost efficiency,” Eddie said. “If you can justify it, then do it for sure.”

For Eck, it is difficult enough just to source water for cattle, much less irrigate crops.

“Typically, in our area alfalfa makes four to five tons per acre on dryland, which still beats a 30-bushel bean crop or 50- to 60-bushel wheat, which are average for our area,” Eck said. “If you can get 175 RFV hay on dryland alfalfa and get a four-ton yield, it still does the trick here.”

For DeHaan, irrigation is a must.

“We’re in a desert like most people in the western U.S., so if we didn’t have irrigation we wouldn’t be able to grow alfalfa,” DeHaan said.

To learn more about Alfalfa U, visit www.hpj.com/alfalfau/. The event was sponsored by John Deere, Alforex Seeds, Ward Labs, Staheli West, American Ag Credit, Harvest Tec and High Plains Journal.

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].