Take a look at the USDA’s National Ag Statistics Service (NAAS) report for farm gate values in 2009 and it’s another reminder that the dairy industry took a huge hit last year. And of course, it means that alfalfa and other forages have also seen some tough times, as well. Hats off to the dairies that have survived the prolonged struggle over the past two years to finally return to profitability. Hopefully, the effort to make major changes to dairy policies and curb market instability will be addressed by Congress in the not too distant future. Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate, but with the upcoming election, however, movement on the issue will likely be tabled until next year.

Comparing statistics compiled by the NASS California Field Office for 2008 vs. 2009 is also a stark reminder of the hay market’s volatility the last two years. The State Ag Overview report for 2008 showed alfalfa’s “value of production” at $1.3 billion and all hay — alfalfa and other forages — was valued at $1.7 billion.

One year later, there has been a major downturn. The 2009 Ag Overview report shows a value of production for alfalfa at approximately $700.5 million, while all hay has dropped to approximately $900 million. Nonetheless, hay is in 10th place in California’s top 10 ag products, with milk sitting at No. 1 by a wide margin.

As growers know all too well, alfalfa is constantly being attacked by environmentalists who continue to brand it as a water-wasting, low value crop. It definitely opens some eyes when alfalfa’s detractors are confronted with a $1 billion farm gate value. Alfalfa’s true value gets a big boost when you point out that it’s an important component of the dairy industry and the cattle industry.

This column was being written at about the same time CAFA had agreed to take part in a farm tour sponsored by the California Farm Bureau to educate an environmental group based in San Francisco. The event includes a field trip on Oct. 26 and a sit down session the next day. Alfalfa has taken a beating from the environmental group that will take the tour and attend the information session. The two-day session is being spearheaded by Cynthia Corey, Farm Bureau’s director of environmental affairs. Thanks to her, CAFA will have an opportunity to make a difference and make more inroads in educating the public on alfalfa’s benefits.