A recent op ed piece by State Sen. Jeff Denham, who chairs the Senate Ag Committee, sounded the alarm bell for California's “shrinking farmland that's being paved over at an astonishing rate. California is losing about 50,000 to 100,000 acres of valuable farmland per year,' said Denham, who represents the 12th Senate District, which includes Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, San Benito and Monterey counties.

“At that rate,” he warned, “we could see the end of some of America's most productive regions in my children's lifetime. Like the orange groves of Anaheim, California farming could be a memory of the past, replaced by asphalt and concrete.”

Senator Denham's concerns aren't new, of course, but they come at a time when there are also questions surrounding the alfalfa industry. In the September issue of CAFA News, Seth Hoyt of the USDA National Ag Statistics Service in Sacramento wrote that, “From a practical standpoint, hay acres need to increase to service the large number of dairy cows in California, the alfalfa hay industry's main consumer.” Acreage has dropped in the last two years, with 2005 showing a surprising decline at 1,020,000 acres versus 1,050,000 in 2004.

Given record hay prices in 2005, it's logical to assume that alfalfa will attract more attention in many areas of the state. There are indicators that the fall planting season will be a strong one if Mother Nature cooperates. Last year's early rainfall no doubt cancelled out a significant number of acres intended to be planted to alfalfa. Based on feedback from several sources, including seed companies, alfalfa acreage will rebound in 2006.

The $64,000 question, of course, is how many acres and how will it impact the market? Given California's position as the No. 1 dairy state, and with continuing growth in other western states such as Idaho, it's more than likely that high-test hay will be in strong demand even with a significant jump in acreage.

Senator Denham's op ed piece was written after he chaired a Senate Ag Committee hearing in Merced to discuss state, federal, and local efforts “to protect our farmland from vanishing forever.” Denham noted that, “With all of our current growth, Ag land preservation programs are, and will be put to the test to protect our green fields.”

Given the challenge of meeting the needs of California's dairy industry, the alfalfa and forage industry will be “put to the test” more so than most ag commodities.

Annual meeting in Visalia

The annual California Alfalfa and Forage Symposium is back in the San Joaquin Valley again. Visalia is the site for the 2005 Symposium and CAFA will host an annual meeting breakfast for members and non-members. The breakfast meeting starts at 6:30 a.m. on the second day of the Symposium, Dec. 14. Tickets for the breakfast will be available at the CAFA table in the exhibition hall.

The pre-Symposium tour takes place Dec. 12 and the symposium program kicks off the morning of Dec. 13. First-day sessions include “Industry Trends and Environmental Issues,” pest management, and high quality forage production for dairy systems. The main session for the second day of the symposium is forage quality.

Complete details on this year's symposium are available on the UC Workgroup's Web site, http://www.alfalfa.ucdavis.edu.