Dismal prices, sluggish sales, high production costs and challenging weather conditions have left alfalfa farmers with little to no profit in 2009, prompting a focus on “Improving Your Odds of Profitability” at this year’s Western Alfalfa and Forage Conference, Dec. 2-4, in Reno, Nev.

“To salvage profitability though these tough times, alfalfa growers, pest control advisers, crop consultants and the industry as a whole are scrambling for every trick in the book,” said Steve Orloff, UC Cooperative Extension field crops farm advisor, the conference program chair. “It’s more important now than ever for producers and others in the alfalfa industry to gather the latest research and market information at this annual gathering.”

The conference is sponsored by the Cooperative Extension services of six Western states: California, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Arizona and Washington. Presentations specifically tailored to improving industry profitability include:

• Reducing inputs to improve profits: Good idea or bad idea?

• Adapting cutting management to market conditions.

• Marketing your hay in a low-price year.

• Surviving difficult times: Lessons learned from those who have and have not.

In addition, the conference will cover a wide range of topics related to alfalfa and forage crop production, economics, pest management and irrigation. Other issues to be addressed include: industry trends, bioenergy crops, alternative forage crops such as teff, water and drought issues, alfalfa advances being made with biotechnology, and a special session on innovations from the alfalfa industry.

A new feature at this year’s conference is a hands-on diagnostic workshop on Dec. 2. Small groups of participants will rotate through stations concerning soils and fertilizers, diseases and nematodes, weed identification and management, and insect identification and integrated pest management.

“This unique training opportunity is designed to develop practical skills in alfalfa management,” Orloff said. “Growers, crop consultants and pest control advisers will diagnose real-life problems and learn critical aspects of soil and pest management.”

Continuing education credits will be offered to pest control advisers and certified crop advisers for the workshop and main program. A commercial exhibit area will feature more than 60 exhibitors with information on equipment, seed, support products and services.

Because of the difficult economic times, the registration was reduced to $125 and hotel rooms for conference attendees are available at the discounted rate of $44 per night at the Grand Sierra Resort Hotel, 2500 E Second St. in Reno. The diagnostic workshop is $50.

Online registration and mail-in registration forms are on the conference Web site, http://alfalfa.ucdavis.edu. The early registration deadline is Nov. 2. Late registration (until Nov. 23) is $150. Registration at the door is $175. Hotel reservation information is also available on the Web site.