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High Desert Crops

Alfalfa, small grains (for hay), onions, carrots, peaches, pears and nectarines are all grown commercially in the High Desert.

Cherries, apples and grapes are also grown commercially, but on a small scale.


Alfalfa has been the main crop of the High Desert for many decades. It is one of the most palatable forages, providing high energy and protein, for dairy cows and other types of livestock. It is considered the "Queen of Forages" due to its high yield and quality; stand persistence; wide adaptation; biological nitrogen fixation; and soil benefits. The plentiful sunshine, warmth, well-drained soils and lack of excessive rain during the growing season offer the High Desert area ideal conditions for successful crops.

Alfalfa is usually planted by mid-September at a seeding rate of about 30 pounds per acre. Planting during spring and summer is challenging due to strong wind conditions. Growers usually plant varieties with a dormancy rating of 6 and 7 (some 5 and 8) that are resistant to fusarium wilt as well as stem and root knot nematodes. Alfalfa requires about 6 acre-feet of water per year and considerable amounts of phosphorus. It is also moderately sensitive to salt.

The main pests in the High Desert area are the stem nematodes and alfalfa weevils.

Click here to access the 2010 and 2011 data for the alfalfa variety trial that was conducted in Lancaster, California.

For more information on alfalfa management, please see UC IPM Online's page on alfalfa & the California Alfalfa Workgroup Homepage.

Small Grains
Small grains for hay production are common and good options for crop rotation with alfalfa, onions and carrots in the High Desert. Wheat, barley and oats are planted separately or as a mix, usually with a grain drill, around mid-November to mid-February.

For more information on the management of small grains, please see UC IPM Online's page on small grains & Small Grain Production Manual.

Onions have also enjoyed a longtime production history in the High Desert, although they are not as traditional as the alfalfa fields. Onions are usually planted on 40-inch raised beds from January to March (depending on the variety) and harvested from June to September.

Short, intermediate and long-day varieties are planted. Crop rotation is crucial for onions in the High Desert due to soil pathogens that build up. Pink root and aphids are the main causes of problems. Practically all of the irrigation is done "hand-move solid set" systems. However, center pivots with boom-back technology (two or three lines of sprinklers toward the end towers of the pivot) used on carrot fields have shown to deliver water at desired rates, with small droplets that do not compromise germination and stand establishment.

For more information on management of onions, please access Fresh-Market Bulb Onion Production in California & UC IPM Online's guidelines on how to manage onion pests.

Carrots are considered to be a relatively new crop in the High Desert, where two large companies farm a considerable amount of land. Mostly short-cut, carrots are planted on 40-inch raised beds from early February to mid-April. Fields are fumigated every year with Vapam through the watering system in October to November.

Center pivots with boom-back technology is the main irrigation system. The "hand-move solid set" system is also used.

For more information on management of carrots, please access Carrot Production in California & UC IPM Online's guidelines on how to manage carrot pests.

Peaches, Nectarines, Plums, Pears and Cherries
These fruits are produced mainly in two regions in the High Desert: Little Rock and Leona Valley.

Small-scale and you-pick operations are typical in the Leona Valley.

For more information on pests for these fruits, please visit UC IPM Online's page on agricultural pests & Leona Valley Cherry Grower's Association.

Although the High Desert is mostly known for its alfalfa and vegetable fields, grapes and wine production exist in the region.

Local wineries: Agua Dulce Winery, Antelope Valley Winery & Leona Valley Winery

The website for eViticulture offers the latest in science-based information for viticulturists. Created by the Grape Community of Practice (GCoP), the site is for commercial viticulturists looking for solid, tested and science-based information to improve their skills in the vineyard.

For information, please visit UC IPM Online's page on how to manage grape pests.