Is Alfalfa Making a Comeback in Texas?

Alfalfa is a forage crop that has been around for centuries and is dubbed by many as the mother’s milk of hay production. It produces the highest protein and digestible hay that you can feed to livestock, and used to be a common rotational crop, particularly in the Brazos River Bottom. With the development of commercial fertilizer, it became harder to find as part of the Central Texas landscape, but that may be changing right here in the Brazos Valley. Bill Merka began growing alfalfa along with James Baggs in 2017.

“Alfalfa was grown in this area, predominantly in the Brazos Bottom to put nitrogen back into the soil after the cotton and corn and milo and other crops depleted the nitrogen from the soil. Good fertilizers weren’t available at that time. It also supplied a great hay crop for the cattle, and for any other thing that they were growing at that time.”

One big obstacle is the notion that Texas has an uncommon problem with an insect known as the blister beetle which can be toxic to horses. Baggs says the truth is that these beetles are located in every state.

“It is an absolute necessity that the consumer be aware of what blister beetles are and know how to spot them. Although most producers are going to do a really good job of trying to keep those out of their pastures, you can’t stop Mother Nature and from time to time, no matter whether you’re in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Wyoming, or Utah, blister beetles can be a problem.”

Merka says that they rely on facts to debunk the mistaken belief.

“We do have to deal with the misconceptions of the blister beetles and Texas alfalfa which we’re overcoming with science and knowledge. We’ve just got to educate these people to the aspects of Texas alfalfa. It’s just as good as any other alfalfa and we deal with the same problems they do.”

Baggs says the beetles are easy to control.

“What we do is that we walk the field and we make sure that we don’t see blister beetles. Anytime we see blister beetles, then we’re actually going to cut that section out. The beetles themselves are gregarious. They tend to move much like army worms move. They move in kind of large groups. So you can actually cut that area off and mow that area down and you can prevent the blister beetles from getting into the rest of your pasture.”

Merka believes that word of mouth from their customers is the best marketing tool they have.

“Those misconceptions are not going to be erased by an ad in a newspaper or something but they might be erased by somebody going, I bought some from them and it was some of the best alfalfa I’ve ever seen. I went down and talked to the farmers. I went and saw their fields. I saw their operation.”