LATimes.com - Full Article
by David Pierson
June 8 2014
The machine harvester cut across Ronnie Leimgruber's alfalfa field, blades whirring, leaving behind a thick trail of leafy legume ready to be dried and baled.
"You've got to drive like hell, drive fast and get as much as you can," said Leimgruber, a burly third-generation farmer in this Imperial Valley outpost.
Every stalk counts. Demand has never been greater for Leimgruber's crop. Prices for alfalfa hay have doubled in recent years to near-record highs.
"The last four years have been the best ever," said Leimgruber, 53. "I've made millions when in years past I've lost millions."
His good fortune traces across the Pacific to China's booming dairy industry.
Faced with dwindling access to water and arable land, China has little choice but to turn to U.S. farmers to help supply feed for the country's growing herd of dairy cows. Packed with fiber and protein, alfalfa hay is considered the gold standard for forage, and the Western United States is the crop's Côte d'Or.
Since 2009, alfalfa exports to China grew nearly eightfold to a record 575,000 tons — shipped overseas in the same containers that deliver the latest iPhones and flat-screen TVs from Chinese factories.
China has now pushed past Japan as Asia's biggest buyer of U.S. alfalfa and is second only to United Arab Emirates as the globe's top importer, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture...
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