WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — 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.