The annual California Alfalfa Symposium always offers a wealth of information for growers and other members of the alfalfa and forage industry. This year's symposium will be held Dec. 12-13 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Modesto, Calif.

The second speaker on Dec. 12, Seth Hoyt of the California Department of Food and Agriculture's ag statistics department will discuss market trends in the California alfalfa industry. In October CAFA asked Hoyt for an update on the alfalfa hay market, and he responded with some interesting facts and figures.

“Alfalfa hay prices in 2001 have surpassed the previous record high prices in 1997.” Hoyt thought the California hay market would be strong in 2001. But, he added, “it outpaced even my expectations.

“Alfalfa hay yields have been a mixed bag in California this season but overall appear to be higher than last year,” he reported. “Because of the strong market for dry cow hay, there were growers in the Imperial Valley and San Joaquin Valley, the two main production areas that were harvesting for tonnage rather than quality this summer.” Sources indicate that some yields per cutting in the southern San Joaquin Valley this summer were topping two tons per acre. Whitefly damage in the Imperial Valley appeared to be minimal which also contributed to higher yields.

The overall yield is estimated at 7.2 tons per acre for the year, the same as 1997. It's the main reason that early estimates of alfalfa production in California in 2001, at 7,272,000 tons are 2 percent above 2000.

A question that's likely being asked is how the alfalfa hay market could be at record high levels if production is above 2000? Hoyt cited three factors. 1) Low stocks going into 2001, 2) alfalfa shipments into California from other states from January through August were down 4 percent from the same period last year and 3) an increase of 210,000 dairy cows since 1997 (total of 1.59 million). This doesn't include the Jan. 1, 2001 estimate of 750,000 milk replacement heifers over 500 pounds being fed in California, Hoyt noted. “The consumption of hay by dairy cows and dairy heifers is one of the main drivers of the higher alfalfa hay market in 2001.”

In trying to look ahead, Hoyt would be “very surprised not to see alfalfa acres go up in 2002.” Alfalfa hay has been one of the bright spots in a bad year for most California field crop commodities. Following record prices in 1997, alfalfa hay acres in California increased 100,000 the following year. And in 1984, following a strong market the previous year, acreage went up 70,000. “After missing my personal estimate of higher alfalfa acreage in 2001, maybe this time I'll be right. I realize that water will be a big issue and it may prompt a few growers to wait until spring before they plant,” he observed. Nonetheless, record high prices in 2001 will probably mean more alfalfa hay acres in 2002.

At the symposium Hoyt will discuss in more detail the balance between alfalfa acreage and alfalfa hay consumption in California.

CAFA invites all its members and interested parties to attend the wine and cheese social and the association's annual meeting at the symposium on Dec. 12. The starting time is 5:10 p.m. followed by CAFA's annual meeting at 6 p.m. Both events will be held at the DoubleTree hotel.