The beginning of the year seemed to have little to offer in the way of good news. A hay market that took a nosedive after milk prices collapsed and a continuing drought were weighing heavily on expectations for 2009.

One knowledgeable source we talked to doesn’t expect a market correction until late in the year.

Although mid-February storms were far from solving the water shortage, they were a reminder that there’s always hope. Perhaps we’ll experience another “March Miracle,” a drought buster that saved California about 20 years ago. One bright spot, however, has given CAFA a nice boost from our members early in the year.

The first mailing for 2009 membership renewals was much stronger than in previous years. It’s important since CAFA’s revenue primarily comes from membership dues which are relatively small, ranging from $50 to $150. In addition, CAFA receives a generous donation annually from the San Joaquin Valley Hay Growers Association, and for the past two years the auction at UC’s Alfalfa Symposium has provided another boost. Nonetheless, memberships keep CAFA going.

At the January board meeting there was unanimous agreement that last year’s record-setting hay market prompted the early membership renewal response. There’s no argument that a strong market for much of the year played a major role. But we believe that other factors are in play.

Each year brings more regulations, plus more attempts to take away key pesticides and other tools. And, of course, there’s continuing pressure by environmental groups that want to take water from alfalfa and other crops because smelt are more important. When more challenges arise there’s a much greater recognition that an association dedicated to a particular commodity is vitally important. CAFA is the organization growers and other industry members can turn toward to advocate on behalf of the industry it represents.

In the February CAFA report, Board Chairman Philip Bowles summed up last year’s efforts by noting, “We’ve continued to make headway, in partnership with the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance, in trying to establish some USDA research positions here in California; to fight to keep chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) in our insecticide arsenal; to refute the newspaper and blog postings that malign alfalfa as a water wasting, low value crop; and in general doing what we can to meet the needs of our members and the industry.”

Bowles also pointed out, “Our industry remains a vital component of our nation’s food chain, and continues to produce a superior product at a competitive price, without needing subsidies or tariffs to protect us. I’m convinced a large part of our strength comes from a constant drive to improve.”

Thanks for the support.

The CAFA auction in December at the Alfalfa & Forage Symposium received excellent support and we extend our thanks to the many people who donated auction items. The Annual Meeting breakfast that was held at the Symposium was sponsored by four companies and CAFA extends its thanks to: CertainTeed Corp., the manufacturer of Certa-Lok and Yelomine pipe; Western Ag Enterprises, manufacturer of hay and truck tarps; FMC Ag Products, manufacturer of Mustang Insecticide and other crop protection products for alfalfa; and Valent USA, manufacturer of Chateau Herbicide and other crop protection products for alfalfa.