Alfalfa has the potential to net more dollars per acre than any other traditional ag venture in East Texas, says Vincent Haby, a Texas Ag Experiment Station soil scientist.

He recently evaluated the profitability of alfalfa grown on four farms in four counties.

"Alfalfa has the potential to pay for farmland in East Texas,” says Haby, who’s based at Overton. “On one site in particular, net profit for alfalfa was more than $1,200 per acre over a four-year period.”

The economic data used for the study were from on-farm alfalfa production evaluations in cooperation with local farmers. Haby selected the sites after locating willing cooperators whose fields had good drainage and aeration, and a subsoil pH of 5.5 or higher at depths to 48”.

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program provided funds to establish and maintain alfalfa, and in return for owning the hay produced, the farmers agreed to fence the sites and harvest the alfalfa.

Extension economist Greg Clary calculated net returns based on establishment costs, production and harvesting costs, interest on production costs, labor and opportunity costs.

Total net return for the first four years, with alfalfa hay valued at $135 per ton and establishment costs prorated over four years, ranged from $1,206/acre to $518/acre on the four farms. The returns were considerably higher than can be achieved with cow/calf, stocker cattle or bermudagrass hay in East Texas, says Clary.

However, Haby warns that alfalfa production isn't for everyone. Success depends on precise management, careful attention to site selection, proper liming, fertilizer application and pest control. High establishment costs – from $232 to $353/acre – can also be an inhibiting factor. Haby has detailed guidelines for site identification and establishment. They can be found at http://soils.tamu.edu.

Alfalfa production budgets, in the form of Excel spreadsheets, may be downloaded from Clary's rural business Web site at http://ruralbusiness.tamu.edu/forage/.