The California Alfalfa and Forage Symposium is an opportunity to collect a wide range of information and meet producers and industry members from California and other states. Last December's meeting in Monterey was an opportunity to hear someone from outside the alfalfa and forage industry make the case for organizing on a national level. The evening before the Symposium began last December in Monterey, several CAFA board members and UC Extension personnel were invited to discuss the topic.

A dinner hosted by the Intertape Polymer Group, the Nova-Thene HayMaster Co., featured a discussion led by one of its consultants, Irv Mermelstein. While he acknowledged his lack of an agricultural background, his vision for the alfalfa and forage industry is based on what he has learned from the cotton industry. And, he's committed to getting the ball rolling to develop a national organization patterned after the National Cotton Council.

Organizing the alfalfa and forage industry, of course, is an on going process and one that is continuing to gain momentum. A recent example is the National Alfalfa Alliance, which replaced the Alfalfa Council (originally the Certified Alfalfa Seed Council). The National Alfalfa Alliance has expanded its membership to include not only seed producers, but also alfalfa breeding and seed production organizations. Lobbying in Washington is an added activity, something that has been lacking for alfalfa, the third largest crop in the U.S.

Compared to other crops like cotton, corn and soybeans, alfalfa has a long ways to catch up. But, there's a growing recognition that the time has come to begin working more closely with policy makers.

Even working together on a regional basis would be a major step forward and a recent example is a Special Local Need (SLN) 24c label for zinc phosphide for vole control in alfalfa. Two years ago CAFA joined an effort to request that the IR-4 program and federal EPA to prioritize a tolerance petition to clear the way for the SLN.

Once California members in Congress learned of the economic losses due to vole damage, the door opened and the SLN in California went into effect in December of 2003. The state of Idaho began working on an SLN for zinc phosphide in 1994, two years before California started. Once California took the lead, however, Idaho also received the green light. If both states had worked together, perhaps the process would have moved much more quickly. With more western states forming hay associations, there's more opportunity to present a united voice on mutual issues.

Hopefully, a national organization will eventually emerge as an umbrella group for state associations and represent the interests of the alfalfa and forage industry throughout the country.

Thanks to State Sen. Jeff Denham, who represents the 12th District, CAFA's annual meeting held at the Symposium was a success. A CalPoly grad and agribusiness man, the 37-year-old Denham represents Merced and San Benito counties and parts of Stanislaus, Madera and Monterey counties. He addressed an overflow audience and stressed his commitment to agriculture. He also talked about our new governor's interest in supporting agriculture. After the meeting several CAFA members made a comment that many in the audience no doubt shared: It's refreshing to see a young, ag oriented person become active in politics.