Environment Report: A Love-Hate Letter to Alfalfa

Most of my life I knew alfalfa as the dopey kid from “The Little Rascals” with a dipstick coiffure who was, inexplicably, Darla’s crush. But driving through the fields of Imperial Valley mid-October, alfalfa was everywhere bailed in one- to half-ton cubes piled five high and 15 across.

Voice of San Diego photojournalist Ariana Drehsler and I passed so much of it I wondered, how much does this stuff go for? Asking around revealed the market rate for alfalfa falls somewhere between $200 and $300 per ton or more, depending on where it’s grown and purchased. Like a mirage, the rows of green bales whizzing by looked more like stacks of cash.

Imperial Valley is an alfalfa production machine. Farmers grow the flowering legume, generically called hay, to feed livestock. It’s Imperial Valley’s second-largest crop to cattle, generating over $269 million in 2022, according to the region’s most recent crop report.