CAFA made its first appearance at the World Ag Expo, or the “Tulare Farm Show” as most people still call the three-day showcase for agriculture. Several growers who stopped by the booth expressed their support for CAFA's efforts to educate the public on the benefits of alfalfa and provide a unified voice for the industry.

A new CAFA member who was also an exhibitor was pleased to learn that the association is planning to develop lesson plans for schools. But, he added, “it's something that should have been done 20 years ago.” There's no arguing the late start and there's a lot of catching up to do. In the four years since CAFA was formed the mission of educating the public has been at the forefront of issues that have required attention.

The publishing of Alfalfa, Queen of Forage, a wall poster/brochure, and the four-color, 24-page booklet, Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment, were major steps in getting the message out to the public and/or policy makers, including all members of the state legislature.

There's an obvious need, of course, to start the education process at an early age and contacts with several teachers indicate enthusiasm for lesson plans. Last year, for example, a teacher in Marin County received a copy of Alfalfa, Queen of Forages and asked for additional copies for her second grade class. She used the information, which ranges from crop history to environmental benefits, to introduce her students to alfalfa. A number of CAFA members have also distributed the wall poster/brochure and booklet to schools in their areas.

Successful Plant Doctor Program

CAFA shared a booth at Tulare with the California Agricultural Production Consultants. CAPCA showcased its highly successful Plant Doctor Program, an excellent model for ag organizations that want to reach school children. Judging by the response the Plant Doctor Program received from the people who visited the booth, there's a high degree of interest in educational programs that feature agriculture and are designed for school children.

A second theme that surfaced in talking with growers is the need for a cooperative effort to make sure that California's largest acreage crop and the nation's third largest crop, is adequately represented. Efforts to become more proactive are taking shape with recent developments. For example, the formation of the National Alfalfa Alliance, which replaces the Alfalfa Council, provides a means for making the alfalfa industry's needs known at the federal level. The new alliance, which includes seed producers, alfalfa breeders and seed production organizations, will continue to promote the use of proprietary alfalfa varieties. But lobbying in Washington is being added to their mission to put alfalfa in the same position as other ag commodity groups that are well organized and adept at lobbying for their cause.

Closer to home, the formation of a “coalition” of western states hay associations was proposed at last December's Western Alfalfa and Forage Conference. A New Mexico State University agronomist is working on securing funds as the first step in getting the effort under way. With water and regulatory issues becoming more of a challenge each year, the alfalfa industry is finally taking steps to make its voice heard.