The purpose of this program is to introduce Nevada farmers to and help train them in the cultivation of teff, a small-seeded grain and forage crop that requires less water than alfalfa and can be more profitable. There is a strong market for teff seed, which is made into flour to make an Ethiopian flat bread known as injera, as well as for teff hay as a high-quality horse hay.
Alfalfa or grass hay is produced on more than 92 percent of Nevada’s irrigated agricultural lands. The lack of alternative crops limits producer options when hay prices fall or input costs such as electricity rise. This situation is compounded by threats to irrigation water from urban communities and natural drought. Three recent fact sheets examining the economic situation of forage production operations in Churchill, Eureka, and Humboldt counties showed returns of $.89, -$45.62, and -$25.15 per acre respectively. Extension is working with farmers in Churchill, Lyon, Pershing and Humboldt counties to raise teff instead of alfalfa. Demand for teff in the U.S. currently exceeds the supply. Not only is teff used in Ethiopian restaurants, it is also an important source of gluten-free flour, which is required by people who suffer from intolerance to gluten — an estimated 1 in every 133 Americans.
Last year Extension assisted 11 producers to grow teff grain and forage in Churchill, Lyon and Pershing counties. Extension faculty members led Nevada teff producers to Idaho to study agronomic and harvesting techniques with longtime teff farmers and teff buyers. They also worked closely with Nevada growers on field plantings, fertility management, pest identification and harvest timing. Extension experts planted, evaluated and analyzed experimental teff fields in three locations in Lyon County, where an increasing amount of irrigation water is being sold to provide higher flows to Walker Lake.