In the foreground are barley seeds in trays, ready for water and nutrients to help make them produce forage as shown in the tray to the far left in the photo.
Hydroponic forage production requires a lot less water than irrigated alfalfa, and Bill Brandau sees that as its greatest selling point in the Southwest.
“The amount of water used to produce the feed is so much less that to me it makes sense, especially in a drought situation,” says the University of Arizona Extension agent.
Growing forages indoors also erases the land requirement and other hay production costs, but hydroponic equipment is expensive and requires close management, says Brandau.
He’s reserving judgment until more information is available from unbiased sources. Interested in finding an alternative winter feed source for his own beef operation, he searched the Internet for university research on hydroponic forage production, but was unable to find any.
Brandau wants to see a detailed economic analysis of the cost of hydroponic vs. conventional production, as well as fodder feeding research. He also wonders whether an existing building or a greenhouse will suffice, or if a controlled-environment facility is needed.
“At first blush, it’s got a place,” he says. “I don’t think we have the definitive information, but it’s well worth pursuing.”