When the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released its June 30 acreage report, it confirmed what most industry observers were predicting late last year, a decline in alfalfa acres in California in 2004.

It's the second straight year that acreage has dropped, with the 2004 report estimating alfalfa acreage at 1,050,000. It's a 40,000-acre drop, or approximately 4 percent less than 2003.

Not surprisingly, the low desert accounted for most of the decline, with the Imperial and Palo Verde valleys reducing acreage by about 30,000 — 20,000 less in Imperial and 10,000 in Palo Verde. According to a CAFA source, the water agreement being hammered out between the Palo Verde Irrigation District and the Metropolitan Water district will idle a good chunk of cropland in the near future. It's not clear yet how much alfalfa will be taken out of production, but about 26,000 total acres will be affected.

As usual, the financial health of the dairy industry looms large and the forecast for the second half of 2004 indicates that demand for high-quality alfalfa will continue to be a bright spot. In the first half of the year, however, Good quality alfalfa hay made the biggest price jump vs. the first half of 2003. CAFA's July newsletter has an in-depth article on the subject written by Seth Hoyt of the California Agricultural Statistics Service. It's available on CAFA's Web site, www.calhay.org.

Looking ahead

Members of the alfalfa and forage industry always look forward to the annual symposium that's held in December. This year there's lots to look forward to since the event will combine the National Alfalfa Symposium with the California Alfalfa Symposium. The site is San Diego and a pre-symposium tour of the Imperial Valley is scheduled for Dec. 13.

More than 700 people attended the National Alfalfa Symposium held four years ago in Las Vegas and this year's event, which will feature more than 35 speakers, will no doubt draw another big turnout. The two-day program will emphasize important issues for the desert Southwest, and include topics that focus on other hay crops, such as small grains, sudangrass, orchardgrass and other grasses.

The symposium kicks off on Tuesday morning, Dec. 14, with a session on, “Industry Trends/Prices and Issues” that includes Hoyt's presentation on Hay Prices and Trends in Western States. Other speakers will address dairy market trends, the influence of quality and season on hay market decisions, and dynamics of the horse market.

A high interest topic, scheduled for the second day, is the special session on “Biotech Advances in Alfalfa”, chaired by UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Steve Orloff. It kicks off at 10:30 a.m. and then resumes after lunch at 1:30.

Again this year, CAFA will hold an annual meeting breakfast on the second day of the symposium. Last year's CAFA breakfast meeting was well attended and featured California State Sen. Jeff Denham as a guest speaker.

For more information on this year's symposium, log onto the UC Alfalfa Workgroup Web site, http://alfalfa.ucdavis.edu.