2009 is the year that wasn’t. It wasn’t pretty and there wasn’t any letup from the crowd that enjoys bashing agriculture and spreading false information, especially during another drought year. But in some ways CAFA had a good year.

The pluses this year: CAFA’s loyal members who renewed their memberships for 2009 despite a miserable hay market, plus indications that the Association’s voice is being heard more loudly.

Sometimes progress comes in small steps. For example, the Pacific Institute’s latest report on water policies (Sustaining California Agriculture in an Uncertain Future) acknowledged that forages have added value due to their support for the state’s dairy industry. While alfalfa and other forages were lumped into a field crops category, the Institute’s latest findings eliminated misinformation that appeared in last year’s report. The true value alfalfa produces is a key topic CAFA stressed when it contacted the Pacific Institute and others who downgraded alfalfa’s importance to California’s economy and the environment.

The most recent response of significance is the reply to a regional agricultural advisor to the Federal EPA who submitted comments to the California Air Resources Board. They included a recommendation to “discourage production of thirsty, relatively low value crops like alfalfa (which consumes as much water as all of California’s cities).” Another recommendation: “Revise state fertilizer standards to account for the true cost of energy. This includes the upstream costs of producing fertilizer and associated greenhouse gases …”

The letter sent to the EPA’s regional office cited the ag advisors lack of knowledge about alfalfa and its ability to add nitrogen and organic matter to soils. Besides defending alfalfa’s value, the letter said it was “ludicrous” to suggest that replacing a legume with crops that require field cultivation and nitrogen fertilizers will reduce greenhouse gas production. In November, a CAFA source alerted us to another attack. The source was in several “group discussions” and responded to accusations that alfalfa is a low value crop in relation to water use. It looks like the rest of this year and 2010 will be the same as the beginning of 2009.

• Take the challenge, make money

More than $18,000 in cash and prizes is up for grabs at the 2010 World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif. The Expo is featuring a Forage Challenge for growers from Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Categories are alfalfa hay, and standard and brown mid-rib corn silages. Winners will be based 70 percent on analytical lab data and 30 percent on visual ratings. Samples must be submitted no later than Jan. 8, 2010, and there is a $25 entry fee. For information visit http://worldagexpo.com/General-Info/Forage-Challenge.htm. Entry forms and rules can be found at: http://worldagexpo.com/pdf/2010_WAE_Forage_Challenge_Rules_Entry_Form.pdf.