It’s hard to imagine a better year than 2005 and record high alfalfa hay prices are fueling a lot of speculation for the 2006 season.

After two consecutive strong market years, it’s no surprise that the coffee shop talk centers on acreage and the supply-demand picture for 2006. A CAFA grower member in the Sacramento Valley’s tomato growing region said he’d never seen so many fields being planted to alfalfa.

When this column appears CAFA members will have received the December CAFA News, which features a market analysis article by Seth Hoyt of the California Agricultural Statistics Service. His expertise and insight into market trends are a valuable service to CAFA members.

The December newsletter also sums up CAFA’s year and the efforts of the 11-member board of directors, which includes eight growers. Despite the time constraints of the all-volunteer board, especially during the growing season, CAFA tackled several issues of key importance. The year also marked a greater effort to work with dairy industry members on projects of mutual interest.

Research funding

Funding for research on critical issues, particularly water quality regulations and irrigation management, continues to be priority No. 1. The goal of supporting comprehensive research includes an effort by CAFA to encourage the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to establish dairy forage and dairy industry projects for California and other western states. CAFA has met with dairy industry members in the ongoing effort to enlist the aid of the ARS.

Earlier this year CAFA supported Senate Bill 872, which provides continued funding for vertebrate pest control. The association also began monitoring legislation in the State Assembly that would replace the Reclamation Board and establish an “assessment district” for the Central Valley. If passed, the legislation could significantly increase fees for landowners in levee districts and diminish protections afforded by eminent domain.

In November, the board began evaluating a request from a CAFA member in the low desert to possibly secure an alfalfa label for an herbicide through the IR-4 program for minor crops. The broad-spectrum herbicide controls problem weeds such as yellow and purple nutsedge, common groundsel, Mexican sprangletop and dodder.

Minor crop

It may come to as a surprise to some, but alfalfa is a “minor crop,” making it eligible for the IR-4 research program. Nearly all crops fit the designation, except for cotton, corn, soybeans and several grain crops. The federally funded interregional research project was initiated over 40 years ago to register pest control products for minor crops. IR-4 works with growers, ag scientists and Extension personnel to do research and petition the EPA for tolerances.

It’s still early in the process and a lot of details need to be evaluated to determine if there’s a fit for the IR-4 program. But, the California Department of Food and Agriculture used the IR-4 to secure an alfalfa label for zinc phosphide several years ago.

Except for a generous donation from the San Joaquin Valley Hay Growers Association, CAFA is primarily funded by membership dues. Despite a limited budget, the association is making strides in carrying out its mission and acting as an advocate for the alfalfa and forage industry.