If you follow the USDA’s National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) reports, you probably shake your head at times when the stats are posted. There seems to be a lot of head scratching this year after the June 30 acreage report was released. It’s fair to say that a large majority of those who follow alfalfa trends and USDA reports were certain that acreage would be lower than 2010. Surprisingly, however, alfalfa is forecast to increase by 20,000 acres or 2 percent this year. 

As you may recall, early last year it appeared to some analysts and observers that alfalfa acreage in California might drop below the 900,000-acre mark. That didn’t happen, but this year’s March 30 Prospective Plantings report did give reason to think there would be a dip in acreage. Unlike the June report, the March report lumps alfalfa together with all other forages. This year’s forecast was 1.4 million acres for all hay, an extremely low number.  

There’s speculation from some observers that there was a significant number of spring plantings this year, spurred in part by the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa (RRA). One source we heard from said Central Valley growers jumped on the bandwagon after RRA was deregulated at the beginning of this year.   

If indeed there was a planting surge this spring, expect to see another one starting this fall. Last year was a very tough year for seed companies, something that has turned completely around. The hay market boom and deregulation of RRA promises to give seed companies a much better outlook than last year.

One obvious reason that is cited for a surge in fall plantings is Roundup Ready alfalfa. Some have said that the warning made by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) also had an impact. The CFS was successful in causing havoc in its initial lawsuit, resulting in the 2007 injunction that prohibited the biotech seed from being planted.  As soon as RRA was deregulated this year, the CFS warned growers in a not-so-friendly tone that it was going to file suit against the USDA. Attorneys for the CFS and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the USDA on March 18.

One of their major complaints is GE alfalfa’s impact on the Endangered Species Act. On June 30, Federal Judge Samuel Conti rejected a motion for a partial summary judgment on the Endangered Species Act claim. Judge Conti, who has been a federal judge for 41 years, will preside over the lawsuit. The first hearing is scheduled for Dec. 2, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division.

On June 30, Judge Conti also granted the government’s request for “consolidated briefing.” His June 30 order was done to improve efficiency, so CFS and other plaintiffs have to make their claims together. It will be interesting to see if the Endangered Species Act will get traction. The act has been distorted so often over the years it’s no surprise that it’s being taken advantage of once again.