• Forage crops in the Matanuska region, Alaska

      Alberts, H. W. (Office of Experiment Stations, United States Department of Agriculture, 1933-05)
      The principal crops on which the development of agriculture in the Matanuska region 1 depends are grown primarily as a feed for livestock. So far as is known, Fred Herning in 1906 was the first person to grow forage crops in the region. Mr. Herning operated a trading post at Knik and for many years grew^ oats on 2 acres as a feed for his horse. The first farmers did not grow forage crops because they had no barns or other buildings in which to care for livestock, and their areas of cleared ground were not sufficient for the raising of feed for horses and cows. Teams were scarce in the Matanuska Valley in those days, and only small parcels of land could be cleared at a time. Potatoes constituted the chief money crop of the region, and they therefore were grown on nearly all the cleared land. Potato growing required only small capital and yielded immediate returns in cash. However, diseases attacked the crop after it had been continuously grown on the same areas, and the yield of marketable potatoes was greatly reduced in consequence. The farmers then sought for other crops with which to grow their potatoes in rotation. Cereal crops, such as oats, barley, and wheat, were tested for grain and found to make vigorous growth. At Matanuska these crops are grown during the warmest part of the summer and harvested with the coming of cool weather. Frequent slow, drizzling rains coming shortly after cutting may make difficult the work of curing the crop in bundles in the field when it is grown for grain, but curing can be economically done when the crop is grown for forage. Since the establishment of the Matanuska Agricultural Experiment Station in 1917, an endeavor has been made to determine the grain and forage crops best adapted to the region. Inasmuch as legumes had not been grown, such perennial legumes as clovers and alfalfa were introduced for trial. These grew vigorously during the summer and went into the winter in fine condition, but many of the plants were eventually heaved out of the ground by frost. Attention was then turned to field peas and to spring vetch (Vicia sativa), which are now among the more important legumes grown by farmers in the Matanuska Valley. In the first trials field peas and vetch were seeded separately and grew luxuriantly. However, they lodged so badly as to be difficult to harvest and to cure. Thereafter peas and oats or vetch and oats were sown in mixture, the oats to provide support for the recumbent plants. Only enough oats were seeded in the mixture to keep the peas or the vetch from lodging. Sown together, field peas and oats gave a high yield of silage, and vetch and oats made the most desirable of the hay crops. The peas and the oats grew luxuriantly and were readily harvested and cured for winter use. The vetch and the oats for hay, however, required special treatment since they did not cure satisfactorily on the ground. Attempts were next made to cure the crops on racks built in the field, as is done in Norway (fig. 1). This method, although effective, was too expensive for use in Alaska, on account of the high cost of the labor involved. After unsuccessfully trying various other methods of curing, the station devised a simple inexpensive method in which the material is piled on thin peeled stakes driven into the ground (fig. 2). This method is now satisfactorily used by the more progressive farmers of the region.