The number 330 is a significant number in California agriculture.

It represents the successful efforts of a dedicated few to one of the most significant elements of California’s No. 1 industry. It is also a distressing number because it is the total membership of the California Alfalfa and Forage Association (CAFA).

CAFA membership should be at least three to four times that. CAFA deserves far more support from the state’s hay industry.

California growers harvested 1.57 million acres of all hay in 2007. Alfalfa represents almost one million acres of that. Hay is the largest acreage field crop in the state.

Alfalfa and other hay production is valued at more than $1 billion annually and underpins California’s $3.6 billion dairy industry.

Forage production impacts everything from cheesemaking to trucking, to beekeeping to horseracing. However, for far too long, the alfalfa/hay industry has struggled to have an effective voice in the state.

CAFA was formed eight years ago to rectify that when Tom Ellis of Grimes, the late Jim Kuhn of Imperial County, Jess Dancer of Mcdoel, Philip Bowles of Los Banos, UC Extension Forage Specialist Dan Putnam, the leaders of the San Joaquin Valley Hay Growers Association, and many others decided it was time alfalfa had a unified voice in California like many other groups.

The goals of the of the organization are to educate the public about the importance and role of alfalfa and forages in California, including their environmental and wildlife benefits; exhibit leadership for the industry to the public, to public agencies, and to private industry for alfalfa and forage producers. It was also formed to support alfalfa and forage research and on issues of vital importance to growers of forage crops such as water use and water quality, pest resistance and pest control.

"We have lacked a focused voice and this is a great chance to change that," said Winters, Calif. hay grower Joe Rominger, a member of the CAFA steering committee.

CAFA is making an impact, but it has not been as significant as other commodities. For one thing, CAFA is a voluntary organization and likely always will be. That is a tough row to hoe. Unlike other major California commodities, alfalfa is far too diversified, geographically and economically, to form a fair mandatory assessment promotional/research commission. CAFA is destined to always be a voluntary group. However, it should not have to struggle financially to be an effective industry voice for the No. 1 row crop in the state.

Alfalfa’s story is a good one to tell. It provides nutrition for millions of cows and horses; habitat for wildlife preservation; plays a key filtering role in keeping California waterways clean of sediments and other unwanted discharges, much less its role in the production of milk and milk products making California the No. 1 dairy state in the nation.

Dues in CAFA are paltry; from $50 to $250 per year. Every hay growers, hay trucker, custom harvester, hay broker, alfalfa seed producer, hay harvesting/handling equipment manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer, tarp makers and pole barn contractors, dairyman and any one else associated with California forage production should be a CAFA member.

CAFA Executive Director, good friend and fellow journalist, Aaron Kiess works tirelessly for CAFA. He has been a key person in making CAFA as effective has it has been with shoestring budgets.

If you are involved in any way with the California alfalfa production, you should be a CAFA member. It behooves you to support your industry.

CAFA’s address is 36 Grande Vista, Novato, Calif. 94947; telephone: 415/892-0167; e-mail: akiess@cmc.net. There is also a California Alfalfa and Forage Association Web site.

email: hcline@farmpress.com