Roaring across a sea of 6' brown grass, a combine separates seeds from stems and collects 2,000 lb. per acre, as a precocious young grower in the box gains a foothold in farming by cutting the rare crop in his fields. Myles Getto is banking on a miniscule grain measuring less than 1 mm in diameter—teff.
Getto wants teff, the world’s smallest grain, to go big. Often used as a rotation crop or forage grass option, teff is grown for profit by a handful of U.S. producers, and the grain is gaining popularity with health-conscious consumers. Getto intends to start his own farm operation, and tiny teff is his vehicle of choice.
Surrounded by sagebrush and desert, Fallon, Nev., is tucked in the Lahontan Valley at the crossroads of US 50 and US 95. With annual rainfall totaling 5", the proximate farmland is completely reliant on irrigation. For Fallon farmers, alfalfa is money. Corn, grain sorghum and wheat are merely rotation crops, essentially non-profit interlopers on the road back to alfalfa. Once used strictly as a rotation crop, teff is bucking the trend, Getto says.
In 2004, University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension alternative crops specialist Jay Davison introduced teff as a rotation crop in Fallon and the surrounding area of Churchill County. By 2011, the realization of teff for profit replaced teff for forage. Getto’s father, John Getto, and business partner Dave Eckert, started the company Desert Oasis Teff & Grain, growing teff for grain and contracting with neighboring operations.
“My dad began with 100 acres. Last year we were at 1,200 and this year we’re at 600 acres. We market the grain and sell the straw bales to dairies,” Getto explains.
In 2015, Getto began growing 80 acres of teff on his own, spurred by an FFA project. “Teff has provided me with opportunity,” he says. “Without it, I’d only be growing alfalfa and be somewhat limited. I’m 18, but just put an offer in on my own property, and I completely credit teff. I want my own operation and would like to shoot for 200 acres of teff right now.”
Getto air seeds 2 lb. per acre of teff close to June 1 to avoid freezing temperatures and plant damage. (Teff generally costs 80¢ to $1.50 per pound.) Teff for forage is often planted with a drill at 6 lb. per acre, but Getto insists on an air seeding.
“No special equipment is needed,” he says. “You want a big crown on the plant and don’t want any crowding. A drill just doesn’t do that as well.”
Teff isn’t a heavy management crop, Davison says: “We typically fertilize with about 50 lb. to 60 lb. of nitrogen per acre at seeding for grain. I’ve seen yield as high as 2,600 lb. per acre, but averages at 1,600 lb. to 1,700 lb. per acre.”
After irrigation, Getto checks for barnyard grass and sprays Latigo for broadleaf weed control if needed. Overall management is minimal; after four to five in-season irrigations, the 100 to 110 day crop is ready for harvest. Army cutworms are sometimes an issue at harvest, and before an insecticide was available, Getto was forced to cut for hay and take the loss in cases of severe infestation. However, in 2016 EPA approved the use of Prevathon, an effective insecticide on armyworms, Davison says.
At harvest, Getto’s teff is mixed between two varieties: white and brown. White teff is 6' tall with a large head, thick stems and doesn’t lodge. It dries while standing and is direct cut with a combine. Brown teff takes on a dark golden color and goes to ground. “It can get so heavy it’ll lodge and lay down. We go in and get it with a swather with no crimper,” Getto says.
Harvest begins in early September and lasts two weeks to a month, depending on swathing and combining. Combines require special screens to handle the tiny seeds. Per pound, teff contains 1.3 million seeds, compared with 20,000 kernels in a pound of wheat. Contracted growers often yield between 1,500 lb. to 1,700 lb. per acre Getto says, but he shoots for 2,000 lb. per acre.
Desert Oasis Teff & Grain sells 1-ton totes, 1-lb. bags and 25-lb. bags to a wholesale distributor. “Teff is super-high in protein and the flour is gluten-free,” Getto says. “It’s got a nutty flavor and is extremely healthy to eat. Bake with it and you’ll love it.”
Relatively few U.S. producers grow teff, with almost all production in Nevada or Idaho, Getto says. The young farmer is adamant—teff has potential: “It could be huge. It just needs a dry climate to grow, but there is money to be made with this crop.”
Melissa Jones, 19, Nevada FFA state vice-president 2017 to 2018 and 2018 national officer candidate, is a close friend of Getto, and says the Fallon grower has long shown remarkable initiative. “Myles as a person is Myles as a farmer, and his whole life is about building farming opportunities,” she says. “He’s always dreamed of farming on his own and is constantly looking for opportunity.”
“He’s got a fantastic reputation in Fallon and people look at him like a mature adult because he works so hard for what he wants,” Jones adds.
Davison has watched Getto grow up in the fields around Fallon and echoes Jones’ sentiments. “If we had more young people like Myles in agriculture, we’d be so much better off because he’s 100% committed to farming,” he says. “You can’t drag him off a tractor. The only thing he ever wanted to do was farm, and he’s always been so much fun to work with.”
Getto is preparing to trial buckwheat, amaranth and several heritage grains in 2019, but he remains most excited about teff. “I want to see a teff industry in the U.S., and my generation has a chance to make that happen. I’m not afraid to be the person that people call for questions about management. I’m ready to push this because teff is a great crop.”