Kan. farmers test teff as alternative dryland crop – By ROXANA HEGEMAN ( WICHITA, Kan. )

July 30th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

When black farmers in Kansas first began growing an Ethiopian cereal grain known as teff five years ago, they were intrigued by the crop’s connection to Africa.

Now, the Kansas Black Farmers Association is working with conservationists to expand test plots of teff into market-sized fields that farmers across the state can plant as an alternative crop.

“We get calls monthly from people wanting any teff we have so they can mill it for food,” said Darla Juhl, coordinator for the conservationists group, Solomon Valley Resource Conservation and Development Area. Some of those calls have come from people as far away as the Netherlands and Mexico.

Teff is gluten free and known for its flood and drought resistance.

Project acres of teff have grown gradually from the 50 or so acres planted the first year. This year 150 acres was planted in Kansas, down from the 250 acres projected due to untimely rains.

“It has done nothing but rain since we have started growing teff,” Juhl said. “When we wrote the grant we were in the midst of a drought and this was the reason for the grant – it is suppose to use moisture very well, very efficiently.”

The Solomon Valley development organization got a three-year, $119,000 grant from the Agriculture Department designed to bring teff out of experimental fields to marketable fields of teff for grain or forage, Juhl said.

“Both of them are great opportunities,” Juhl said. “The forage is a little more proven at this point in time. We are still having some problems harvesting teff for grain. If we could solve those issues that would likely come around as well.”

The black farmers and the Solomon Valley development group will host a teff field day on Aug. 5 at the Mike and Teresa Webb farm south of Woodston. Farmers and others will visit the farm’s teff field and sample teff products.

All the teff grown in Kansas is used for forage, she said.

Early experiments growing teff to harvest for grain came up against problems at harvest time because the grain is small and the grain heads tend to lodge, or droop, making it difficult to harvest them without costly equipment modifications. Teff also sells for about 50 cents a pound, a little under the price of wheat, she said.

Some farmers in Oklahoma and Idaho have been growing commercial fields of teff.

Kansas farmers so far have had far more success in experimental plots growing the warm season annual for forage rather than grain. It is in demand by owners of horses, alpacas and llamas in particular because it is more palatable to those livestock, Juhl said.

A small square bale of teff can also fetch $12 a bale, far more than the $4 a bale for comparable quality alfalfa.

  1. aha!
    | #1

    At an average price of $8. for a bale of alfalfa and teff (Eragrostis abyssinica)make a neary complete ration for livestock feed with enough carbohydrate from the teff seed heads and protein from alfalfa with little or no additions of concentrates, to satify the reuirements for ten essential amino acids, an imigrant crop without a visa. As far as harvesting, they have to send for immigant farm workers from the teff growing areas on a seasonal basis, since a genetically engineered teff species with stiff stems might be far in the future.

    Teff is adapted to a relatively waterlogged level plain fields in a heavy cly soils with high water and mineral holging capacity, but not in a water logged sites thorughout the rainy season. The fact it appears drought resisistant it persists and continues to grow after rain ceases, form the soil moisture held in the clay soil in the soil. The soil in the Mid-west might be similar in texture and structure with more clay fraction in it. Ecologically speaking, Mid-west is far to the Noth of the alitutude temperate tropical region, whereas, the ideal location according to my colleague would have been more towards South and Central Mexico. Being close to gass species it may have a wider range of adaptation.

    Thanks for bringing up one of our stable food into the limelight. It is part of Ethiopian food culture, and agri culture.

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