Alfalfa is a foundational crop for agriculture across the West. Its protein and fiber content make it one of the best feeds available for livestock, including cattle. And in Arizona, this crop provides economic and environmental benefits that cannot be ignored.
Arizona Alfalfa At-a-Glance
- Alfalfa is grown commercially in seven Arizona counties.
- Alfalfa production in Arizona is valued at more than $468 million, putting us in the top ten states nationwide (Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Information)
Why do we grow alfalfa in the desert?
- Because of our climate, Arizona’s alfalfa yields – the amount of alfalfa grown per acre of land – are among the highest in the world.
- Arizona consistently leads the nation in average alfalfa yields. In 2022, Arizona’s average production was 8.2 tons of alfalfa per acre, compared to the nationwide average of 3.2 tons. (Source: NASS)
- To grow the volume of alfalfa here that we can grow anywhere else would take more land, more labor, more fossil fuel, and more water.
Alfalfa’s Ecological Benefits
- Alfalfa promotes healthy soil. Its extensive root structure improves soil's ability to retain moisture.
- Because alfalfa fixates nitrogen from the sky and into the soil, it decreases the need to add nitrogen fertilizer to subsequent crops.
- It also helps prevent soil erosion, which in turn increases water-use efficiency and air quality.
- Alfalfa serves as a perennial cover crop which reduces windblown dust contributing to improved air quality
- Alfalfa provides habitat for birds, insects, and small mammals who are able to make their homes in alfalfa fields. This is especially true for pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Who consumes alfalfa? We all do!
- As the “secret ingredient” to a healthy diet for cattle, alfalfa facilitates the existence of a local dairy industry.
- In Arizona, 70% of the fluid milk we produce is purchased and consumed by local customers, including Kroger, Albertsons, Daisy Sour Cream, and Fairlife. In our grocery stores, 97% of the milk on our shelves came from an Arizona family dairy. This in turn means the product is fresher, more affordable, and had to travel less distance to go from the farm to our fridge.
- Alfalfa is also critical for beef cattle, horses, and other livestock that are critical to the economic and cultural heritage of Arizona.
When you hear that agriculture uses 72% of the water in Arizona, it is easy to draw the conclusion that the best way to save water for growing urban populations is to take it from the largest user. In reality, though, that water is already being consumed by that urban population each and every time they sit down for a meal. Taking water from farmers does nothing more than erode the reliability of our food system and the success of a $23.3 billion industry, which rivals the economic impact of tourism to the state.
Arizona ag needs water. You need Arizona ag!