The end of the year is always a time for reflecting on what was accomplished and a time for looking at areas where there's a need to move forward in the coming year. Given the long list of issues that need to be addressed (water quality, irrigation management and standardized forage testing, just to name a few) it seems that hardly a dent has been made.

On the other hand, an all-volunteer board led by growers can only devote so much time to tackling key issues. Even if more time was available, other forces influence how much progress can be made. For example, one of the more challenging goals CAFA has pursued in the last several years is the need to establish research funding to address water quality issues for irrigation runoff and groundwater protection.

Several years ago the Association signed on to a grant proposal submitted to the State Water Board by the UC Alfalfa Workgroup. If it had been approved, it would have allowed testing of mitigation measures that would improve best management practices for reducing levels of organophosphate (OP) residues that leave fields after irrigation.

CAFA's grower Board members had spent a considerable amount of time meeting with Water Board personnel and developed practical mitigation measures that deserved evaluation. At the time, however, the Water Board deemed that it was not a high enough priority to warrant grant money.

Then in late 2004, CAFA signed on again as a sub-contractor for a UC Alfalfa Workgroup grant proposal. The proposed water quality grant would have allowed research statewide and would have included mitigation measures for curbing OPs, sediment, herbicide leaching and phosphates.

It was approved by the State Water Board in the summer of 2005, but as luck would have it there was a snag that couldn't be untangled. Unlike other types of government funded research, there was no confidentiality agreement for grower cooperators who would have been asked to evaluate different mitigation measures.

It was an obstacle that couldn't be resolved and the uphill battle to fund research took another turn when UC withdrew. Since then, CAFA has expanded the grant search to include a number of non-governmental sources that support water quality research.

On the plus side, there was good news on the research front earlier this year when California congressmen began working on CAFA's request to fund new USDA-Agricultural Research Service positions. As discussed in previous CAFA columns, the ball got rolling when California congressmen took up the cause and asked the ARS to establish dairy forage systems research that would focus on the needs of growers and dairymen in California and other western states.

With the November elections changing the balance of power in the House and Senate, CAFA is waiting to see if it will have any impact on the effort to get the ARS project moving forward. Nothing is easy when it comes to getting funding, but CAFA will continue to work with the dairy industry, the California Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups to accomplish the goal of getting the federal government to focus more attention on dairy forage systems research in the West.