Alfalfa-ice cream in the making! Markets for alfalfa primarily include the dairy industry, with alfalfa being an important part of a cow’s feed ration, as it provides high protein and energy for high milk production. This is economically important (the dairy industry is worth $7 billion per year) but also important for human nutrition. A California alfalfa field can produce 2,400 gallons of milk per acre. So the next time you have pizza (with cheese), milk on your cereal, or ice cream, thank alfalfa. 

Other markets for alfalfa include livestock, such as horses, sheep, goats and beef cows. Most of our hay stays in state, but other significant markets include China, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Alfalfa seed is also an important source of honey and feeding areas for bees.

When you smell the fragrance of newly mown hay, thank the alfalfa grower and the “Queen of Forages” which helps produce milk right here in California. Watch the fields for bird activity and see if you can spot some Swainson’s hawks feeding on rodents and helping alfalfa growers with pest control, or curlews and egrets foraging for prey. But also be grateful for a host of important wildlife and environmental benefits to the landscape that alfalfa provides. 

For more information, see the UC alfalfa workgroup website.

Rachael Freeman Long; County Director, Farm Advisor for Field Crops, Pest Management

Daniel H. Putnam; Extenson Specialist, Agronomist in the AES


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