So Minnesota: Winter-proof alfalfa

So Minnesota: Winter-proof alfalfa

So Minnesota: Winter-proof alfalfa

More than a century ago, a Carver County farmer changed the world of agriculture.

Wendelin Grimm was determined to beat Old Man Winter, and by doing so, changed the farming industry forever.

“It’s pretty astounding and very much a story of perseverance,” Bill Walker historian with Three Rivers Park District said. “He certainly didn’t know that he would have the impact that he did.”

When Grimm moved to Minnesota from Germany in 1857, he brought a 15-pound bag of alfalfa seeds. Alfalfa is grown as food for livestock animals and it was believed the plants couldn’t survive Minnesota winters.

“In 1857 all American farmers knew you couldn’t grow alfalfa perennially in Minnesota,” Walker said. “It will die over the winter and you would have to replant it.” 

Grimm decided to save the seeds from the few plants that survived the winter and replant them the following spring. After doing this for more than two decades, Grimm no longer experienced winterkill on his crop.

“He, over time, through seed selection, created a strain of alfalfa that does survive over winter and this is hugely revolutionary, but no one at the time knows it,” Walker said.

After Grimm’s death in 1890, a local teacher, along with a professor at the University of Minnesota, brought Grimm’s winter hardy alfalfa to the world. It became known as Grimm alfalfa and today, it’s the source of all modern varieties of alfalfa

“This is a very much American success story,” Walker said.