Agriculture diversity: Spotlight on Nevada

Agricultural production methods vary from state to state. Take a closer look at Nevada agriculture without leaving the Midwest.

Nevada produces over 420,000 cattle annually, and ranks third in the nation in ranch size.

Nevada produces over 420,000 cattle annually, and ranks third in the nation in ranch size.

Agricultural production methods around the world are very diverse and comprise many different technologies, but what we sometimes fail to recall is how innovative and exciting agricultural practices are across the United States. Whether a 4-H project or the largest ranch in the United States, there are similarities and differences in production practices. Michigan State University Extension offers a glimpse into agriculture throughout the United States in this news article series. Let’s take a look at the “Silver State,” Nevada.

With Las Vegas being the home to more than 70 percent of the states’ residents, it should be no surprise that Nevada is the nation’s most urban state. What may be surprising is that despite being the driest state in the nation, receiving an average annual rainfall of 7 inches, agriculture is one of Nevada’s most important industries. In fact, according to 2010 data, the economic impact of the agricultural cluster was estimated to be $5.3 billion. Nevada continues to meet local and state needs with growing emphasis in local food production and niche-agriculture marketing. This article will focus more closely at the traditional impact including beef production, alfalfa production, water use and 4-H.

Beef production

Although tourism leads the economic impact on Nevada, making the largest contribution within the agricultural sector is beef production. The 420,322 cattle and calves produced in Nevada rank the state 37th in production, with cow-calf operations being the most common. These cattle contribute to 62.5 percent of farm receipts totaling $732,883,000 according to the Nevada Department of Agriculture in 2011. Nevada tends to have less farms or ranches than we may see in the Midwest, however, those farms are larger in size as Nevada ranks third in the nation in ranch size, averaging 3,500 acres.

If visiting Nevada, you would find some of the largest cattle ranches located in the northern half of the state. Also differing vastly from the Midwest, cattle and most other livestock are raised in range systems. The majority of the land in Nevada is owned by the federal government, thus grazing rights continue to be a challenge for livestock producers.

Alfalfa production

With the use of irrigation, the process of applying water directly to the crops, alfalfa is Nevada’s leading cash crop. Alfalfa is a protein rich legume that is grown mostly through flood irrigation in Nevada and serves as a major feed source for cattle. Alfalfa is the most common hay crop with about 40 percent of U.S. production occurring in 11 western states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. In Nevada specifically, alfalfa seeds and hay make a measureable impact on the economy. Alfalfa is often sold as hay, cubes or compressed bales depending on its intended use domestically or internationally.

Water use

Like Michigan, Nevada farmers are charged with the responsibility to be good stewards of the land and manage our natural resources, particularly water. All water above and below ground within the Nevada state lines is owned by the public. Additionally, water laws exist as a way to allow Nevada to have flexibility to grow while also protecting the supply for those who have used the water previously, specifically a positive for those involved in agricultural pursuits. Although residents tend to be very careful about their water use, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension realized the need to increase the education available for residents and offers information for various audiences on efficient use of water through their Living with Drought program efforts.

To address the water concerns, farms and Extension continue to think outside the box. Nevada has and continues to conduct research on low-water-use crops such as teff and hops. Additionally, improving irrigation efficiency continues to be studied and implemented.

Nevada 4-H

The University of Nevada, Reno is the home to University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and 4-H. Nevada 4-H engages over 49,000 youth ages 5-19 in 4-H programs across the state. Programs are overarching and look at the big picture of life and skill development versus a single fair or 4-H project. Specifically, Nevada bases their programs upon three mission mandates: science, engineering and technology; healthy living; and citizenship.

According to the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, the priority 4-H programming areas are 4-H Afterschool; Ambassadors; Collegiate 4-H; Cloverbuds; Healthful Living; Military; Shooting Sports; and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Like Nevada, Michigan 4-H looks at the larger picture, offering programs to fit the needs of youth in our communities. Michigan 4-H currently engages over 181,000 youth in programs throughout the state.

This is only a small snapshot of Nevada agriculture. For more information about Nevada agriculture, visit the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension or plan a trip to the Silver State to witness it firsthand.

Other articles in this series

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