CAFA’s 24-page booklet, “Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment”, is a valuable resource that has been an educational tool and an authoritative information source for defending California’s largest acreage crop. The scientific information in the booklet has been used by some alfalfa growers to defend water use and stave off a large reduction in allotments. That aspect of the booklet recently came to mind when a CAFA member in the low desert asked for help once again to make the case for alfalfa and hopefully keep from losing more irrigation water.

The “Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment” booklet can be viewed and downloaded at the CAFA Web site. As mentioned in a number of Western Farm Press columns over the past eight years, the “Water Story” chapter is often referred to, especially in a drought year or when alfalfa is singled out for the amount of water it consumes.

What makes the water chapter and the entire booklet a valuable resource is its credibility, thanks to the authors who contributed their expertise. Nearly the entire booklet was authored by University of California forage specialists and a forage specialist for the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Minnesota.

The booklet is the cornerstone of CAFA’s educational efforts, and a two-page companion piece is now being developed to provide an overview and focus on a number if misconceptions that plague the alfalfa industry. Over the years we’ve heard the same complaints and misinformation that are repeated so often they become reality rather than myth.

For example, a commodity that has a farm gate value of $1 billion or more is still called a “low value crop.” It’s the mantra of the environmental groups and it’s often repeated by newspapers that take their cue from the enviros without taking time to check the facts.

We thought we had heard all of the negatives, ranging from water use to claims that alfalfa growers receive government subsidies. But recently another fictitious claim surfaced in a letter to the editor of a farm magazine. The letter writer came up with an accusation that growers are shipping “a good majority” of their alfalfa overseas. As a result, he maintained that small ranches are cutting herd size “because they cannot compete for the feed at world market prices.” He went on to say, “this hay is not grown to feed our country.”

The assertion also implies that a large amount of developed water is being used to benefit overseas buyers rather than local dairymen, livestock producers and horse owners. We’re not sure what the letter writer’s idea of a “good majority” means, but he couldn’t have been more off the mark. The California dairy industry alone consumes around 75 percent of alfalfa grown in the state. Factor in livestock and horse buyers and there’s not a great deal of hay being shipped overseas. Last year, for example, only 3 percent to 4 percent of alfalfa grown in California was shipped to Japan, and that small amount was a doubling of shipments in 2007.

The letter writer did a favor, however, in reminding us that we need to continually emphasize the critical need to meet the requirements of dairymen, livestock producers and horse owners who depend on the alfalfa industry.