Anyone who wondered if a national alfalfa and forage alliance could make a difference can shed their doubts about the organization’s viability. The National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA) was established in April of 2006, a development CAFA was happy to see get off the ground. CAFA board members met with some of the movers and shakers at two California Alfalfa & Forage Symposiums to discuss NAFA before it was formally launched, and our association became an affiliate soon after it took off.

In February, three CAFA board members attended NAFA’s first legislative ‘Fly-In’ in Washington, D.C. to meet members of Congress and put alfalfa and other forages in the spotlight and seek funding for a number of projects. NAFA has called the Fly-In a big success and CAFA board members who were there agree. They were impressed by the way the Fly-In was organized, and particularly the opportunity to meet staffers who work for California legislators. In all, 29 states were represented, an excellent showing that was long overdue to compete with other ag commodities for recognition and funding for research and other issues that were ignored until NAFA took hold.

NAFA was eager to get growers from different states to take part in the Fly-In and footed the bill. Two CAFA board members made the trip; Philip Bowles of Los Banos and Tom Ellis of Grimes. CAFA board member Dan Putnam, UC Extension alfalfa and forage specialist, also made the trip and was one of several presenters who gave basic information about alfalfa and forages to House and Senate staffers.

Ellis was surprised when a staffer admitted to being completely clueless about alfalfa from top to bottom. It didn’t surprise me since I’ve met several people who had no idea what alfalfa is, or they thought it’s only used for sprouts. It’s a reminder that educating the public and policy makers will continue to be a high priority for all alfalfa and forage organizations.

When the Fly-In finished on the third day there were nearly 100 meetings and a feeling the mission was accomplished. Main targets during the three-day event were members of Congress who serve on ag appropriations committees. In the short period that it has been in operation NAFA has made strides in getting recognition for alfalfa and all other forages, which rank No. 3 in total value nationwide.

The 2008 farm bill contains an Alfalfa and Forage Research Program and NAFA has also advanced CAFA’s effort to establish more USDA-ARS research. The big hurdle now, however, is convincing appropriation committees to fund the programs that have been authorized. It’s obviously a tall order given the budget crisis, but continued efforts like the Fly-In will eventually pay off. It closed on a high note with a “Bluegrass Style” reception that drew a crowd of nearly 200 people, including staffers and other members of Congress. Besides focusing on appropriations committees, the event included meetings with the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, USDA Risk Management Agency, Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

NAFA is headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., and has a training and education office in Kennewick, Wash. Their website is www.alfalfa.org.