Last year around this time the CAFA column was giving high marks to the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance’s first Washington D.C. Fly-In. This February NAFA had its second Fly-In as growers and other members of the alfalfa industry visited the Capitol in February, including two CAFA board members. Nearly fifty NAFA members from 14 states fanned out to meet with House and Senate representatives as well as policy makers.

It will take time for the alfalfa/forage industry to make the inroads that cotton, corn, soybeans and other commodities have achieved over many years. But feedback from CAFA members who have taken part in the Fly-In are impressed with the way NAFA has handled the situation and they believe that the organization is on the right track.

This year’s Fly-In concentrated on the House and Senate and members who are in the all-important Appropriations Committee. The No. 1 issue was aimed at the lack of USDA-ARS research. It was pointed out that nationally there has been a 16 percent drop in alfalfa acreage in the last 10 years.

Seeing forage acreage shrink in California and other Western states should trigger an ARS response, but that hasn’t been the case. With a lot of help from NAFA, the 2008 farm bill authorized four ARS positions for California that provide much needed research that would also benefit other Western states. The farm bill also included $3 million for research as needed across the country. It’s a small amount for the nation’s fourth largest valuable crop, but it is a starting point. Unfortunately, neither of the two that had made it in the farm bill are funded despite numerous requests by NAFA, CAFA and other forage organizations. However, a CAFA board member who attended the Fly-In said that it was common in the Capitol to hear, “we don’t have money.”

In discussing the Fly-In in NAFA’s March newsletter, good points were made about the benefits of alfalfa and sustainability. Interestingly in Harry Cline’s March 3 column (Show me an ‘unsustainable’ farmer), he stated that every grower he’s ever interviewed over his long career is a “sustainable farmer.” There’s no question that the word sustainable has some punch. It needs to be targeted to legislators, regulators and environmentalists, and it’s important to emphasize that every grower is a sustainable farmer.

NAFA got its message across during time spent in Washington D.C., by putting together an impressive program. According to NAFA there were more than 110 meetings that “educated congressional members and agency staff about the urgency in being recognized in policy and research funding decisions.” Other policy makers that were contacted included the EPA, USDA-NASS, USDA-ARS, and a senior policy advisor to Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.

Again this year NAFA put on its “Alfalfa on the Hill: Bluegrass Style." It’s a well-received reception that brought in more than 220 staff and congressional members. Programs like the D.C. Fly-In will hopefully get more attention of legislators and regulatory agencies in the not too distant future. It’s time that the alfalfa/forage industry receives the recognition and research funding that’s long overdue.