Last month's column emphasized the importance of making good management decisions regarding alfalfa stands and the need to tackle weed control, fertilization and other practices that help ensure top-notch hay quality. It's not too early to also begin planning weevil and aphid control programs and to review irrigation management and cutting schedules that provide maximum results.

With cutbacks in water allotments of 33 percent in Central Arizona this year, now also is a good time to investigate management tools such as Watermark sensors or wireless capacitance probes that help achieve maximum irrigation efficiency. Also, be sure to review University of Arizona research and recommendations for deficit irrigation. Another source that can provide in-depth irrigation information is the University of California's Web site, www.alfalfa.edu.ucdavis. The site allows access to Alfalfa Symposium proceedings that include presentations by University of Arizona Extension Agronomist, Mike Ottoman, and other university specialists.

The emphasis on forage quality can't be overemphasized, especially in view of the competitive marketplace and the importance of meeting the requirements of dairies and other alfalfa and forage customers. A look at market prices, which can be reviewed on the Arizona Forage Producers Association Web site (www.az-fpa.org) underscores the lost revenue potential when quality goals aren't met. As pointed out in an earlier column, one of the major goals of the Arizona Forage Producers Association is to improve communications between growers and end users, so both groups can benefit from a quality product.

The market that holds the most interest for the majority of Arizona growers is California. It appears that dairies there will need high-test alfalfa hay earlier this year than in 2003 when there was a larger carryover of hay stocks. That should add extra incentive for Arizona producers to zero in on getting maximum quality from early cuttings.

On Wednesday, Jan. 28, growers and industry members will have a good opportunity to exchange ideas, talk to end users of forage products, and get updated by industry experts. It's the date for the AFPA's second annual meeting, a one-day event that's being held at the Maricopa Agricultural Center. Last year's meeting drew a good crowd that received valuable information on topics ranging from hay sampling to forage testing to formulating rations with forages. This year's program will continue the effort to present production information with the emphasis on forage quality.

AFPA members and non-members are invited. More information is available on the association's Web site, www.az.fpa.org.