Why is alfalfa so important to you and me? We eat beef, right? We eat dairy products, right? Then Arizona agriculture needs to grow alfalfa.

When uninformed, we equate Arizona agriculture’s market-driven ability to successfully export our hay to domestic and international markets to exporting our water. This overly simplifies a complex issue and ignores the success of our state’s agriculture, especially our farm and ranch exports. Export markets have always been a key part of the agricultural economy and certainly in Arizona agriculture due to our 300-plus days of sunshine and why the majority of America and Canada’s vegetables are coming from Yuma, Arizona in the winter (we’re growing things during seasonal times when others cannot). Export our wonderful products; import dollars to robustly feed Arizona’s economy. 

Arizona’s agricultural fortunes rest on the state’s remarkable soil and sun to grow crops with higher efficiency, quality, and yields than other parts of the world. For an alfalfa example, the Midwest gets an average of three to four tons of alfalfa annually per acre. In Arizona, it’s eight to nine and even as much as 12 tons per acre, per year. 

But it is also important to note that while a percentage of our alfalfa is delivered beyond our state’s borders (some estimate that we export 15% to 20% of our Arizona alfalfa), most of the crop grown in Arizona remains in Arizona to support our local dairy and livestock industries. Meanwhile, water continues to be Arizona Farm Bureau’s number one priority policy focus and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Ultimately, our alfalfa production in Arizona ties directly to our local food supply chain. 

As this “Arizona’s Essential Alfalfa” campaign continues to unfold, I’ve begun to tell stakeholders (certainly those dozens of media calls I can get in just one week), alfalfa is only one link up ahead of us on the local food supply chain: Dairy cows eat alfalfa, we eat dairy products; beef cattle eat alfalfa, we eat beef. 

Farmers, thank you for ensuring we eat dairy and beef by growing alfalfa for Arizona’s cattle. And to the public, thank you for your robust hunger for beef and dairy products. How cattle convert this amazing perennial legume into wonderful dairy and meat products is a case study of the miracle of our local food supply chain. The process is tastier for you and me including easier on our digestion. 

Editor's note: Yes, the author comes at this with a bias having grown alfalfa on her family's farm in Maricopa, Arizona. But regular research on this issue continues to confirm the importance of alfalfa as a staple agriculture crop in Arizona.