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Farming for Success: The Story of Purdue Extension and Indiana Alfalfa

Thanks to the efforts of Purdue Extension agents across the state, Hoosiers can proudly say there's more than corn in Indiana. This is especially true when it comes to the history of alfalfa production. Today, alfalfa is a well-known source of livestock feed and the fourth most widely grown crop in the country, but this was not always the case.


In the early 1910s, most Hoosier farmers struggled to produce alfalfa successfully. When Purdue Extension agent John McFarland came to Benton County, Indiana, in 1913, "...there were only eight men that [he] could find that were growing alfalfa and only two of them with any degree of success." Agents like McFarland knew that Purdue had researched alfalfa production in Indiana and determined the steps necessary to yield a successful crop but farmers were skeptical. Those who had tried alfalfa farming and failed were less likely to believe agents' claims.


To make alfalfa appealing to Hoosier farmers, Purdue Extension agents employed a variety of tactics. First, agents inoculated alfalfa seed for farmers, meaning the seeds would have the proper bacteria needed to grow, and farmers would not have to prepare the soil themselves. Agents then found that if they could convince one farmer to trust them, that farmer could bring others onboard. Additionally, agents began to offer automobile tours to alfalfa farms where they could show farmers firsthand how successful alfalfa could be. In the Extension's year-end report for 1914, a total of 618 automobiles carried 31,184 people to 287 farms; a wild success.


By the turn of the decade, the hard work of the agents began to pay off as alfalfa quickly became almost as valuable as corn, which bolstered local economies across the state. By 1925, Indiana had doubled its acreage of alfalfa from 1915, and Hoosiers had Purdue Extension to thank!



Sources:

Whitford, F. (2017). Scattering the Seeds of Knowledge: The Words and Works of Indiana’s Pioneer County Extension Agents. Purdue University Press.


Fernancez, et al (2019). Alfalfa, Wildlife & The Environment, 2nd Edition. National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance

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