With Republicans taking charge of the House of Representatives again, there’s a great deal of speculation, and as usual, agriculture is in the crosshairs with deep spending cuts in the offing.

A quick side note: In December an environmentalist on Fox News lamented his strong backing of ethanol and now claims it’s more of a problem than gasoline. He didn’t back up his claim, but it gives insight into who has been running the asylum.

It’s too early to tell if the shift in the House will help CAFA’s long-running effort to have the USDA-ARS establish more research positions in California and other Western states. With the help of the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance, the positions have been approved, but there’s one hurdle that’s holding them back. Congress needs to fund the ARS positions, something it hasn’t done so far.

While the ARS effort will continue to be a priority for CAFA, there’s another subject that should also turn out to be a plus for the forage industry. In 2009, the Association contacted and met with the Audubon Society to discuss alfalfa’s importance for wildlife habitat and ways for growers to be good stewards. A second meeting was held in 2010 and a member of the Audubon Society spoke at last month’s Alfalfa & Forage Symposium. The topic was titled “Farming for Birds: Alfalfa and Forages as Valuable Wildlife Habitat.”

On the surface, working with the Audubon Society may not seem like a hot item topic. But, it does have a role in convincing alfalfa’s detractors that the crop has much to offer and true environmentalists will recognize its importance. Last month’s column featured a tribute to the late Jim Kuhn of El Centro, Calif., whose numerous contributions to the forage industry included wildlife habitat.

In looking through articles about Kuhn we came across a 1998 magazine that got our attention and it is still highly relevant. He was quoted as saying, “Western alfalfa growers often come under fire from environmental groups because of the amount of water they use to grow crops. Publicizing the good things they do for wildlife can help offset the adverse, often erroneous, attitudes of urban dwellers.” He also said, "We have a responsibility to maintain and preserve the natural habitat of our land and the wildlife that utilizes it."

Kuhn practiced what he preached and the article pointed out that he “revised his chemical application practices and irrigation schedules, and set aside land for public wildlife viewing.” Disseminating information on how growers are protecting wildlife will help CAFA educate city dwellers, regulators and politicians about alfalfa’s importance for providing wildlife habitat.

This column is an excellent venue for CAFA to keep the alfalfa and forage industry updated on what the Association is doing. We’ve been remiss, however, when it comes to the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC) program. Jesse Richardson, CAFA board member, crafted a two-page alfalfa fact sheet when the Association signed a 10-year contract. In the past seven years the CFAITC has distributed nearly 500,000 fact sheets that educate children on how alfalfa is grown and its many benefits. The fact sheet can be downloaded by visiting www.CFAITC.org or by contacting CAFA at akiess@cmc.net.