June 8, 2015 01:30 AM

Typically, a relatively small publishing company doesn't also own and operate a commercial dairy farm, or any other kind of farm for that matter. But such is the case here at the W.D. Hoard & Sons Company.

I'll write about the current farm operation in future weeks, but how this farm got its start has a lot to do with forage. In some respects, Hay & Forage Grower and eHay Weekly return the company farm to its foundational roots, specifically alfalfa roots.

It was the late 1800s and alfalfa was still trying to gain acceptance by farmers in the Midwest. Sure, Wendelin Grimm had introduced the species in the late1850s in Carver County, Minn., but as with any new crop venture, acceptance of the new is slow and the management learning curve is steep.

In Wisconsin, not even the agricultural specialists at the state's university were recommending alfalfa; lack of persistence just wasn't worth the gamble. Enter W.D. Hoard, a former Wisconsin governor and then current newspaper and dairy magazine publisher. He had seen value in alfalfa for some time and wanted to prove its worth as a feed stuff. Just writing about it wasn't good enough.

As the story goes, Hoard was driving down a gravel road and noticed some alfalfa plants growing in the corner of the fence line along the road. A failed attempt to grow alfalfa in the adjacent field had occurred some years earlier. He surmised that these plants likely had superior genetics or were being aided by the lime dust coming from the road — perhaps both. Hoard dug out about 100 roots to replant, but with no farm to plant them he began his alfalfa enterprise on an empty city lot near his home. He nursed and experimented with his alfalfa until convinced that it would thrive in Wisconsin and not lose productivity during the heat of summer; such was not the case for timothy and red clover, common feeds at that time.

To prove alfalfa's worth to both farmers and university experts, Hoard bought a rundown farm just north of his hometown of Fort Atkinson, Wis., in 1899. He successfully established 8 acres of alfalfa and talked about the crop at every opportunity. It was the beginning of widespread alfalfa use in the state . . . it was also the beginning of the Hoard's Dairyman Farm, which still operates (and grows alfalfa) today.