What does it take to get $3 million from the government to do research for alfalfa and other forages across the U.S.? The question might be answered this year. Three million bucks is real money to most people, with the exception of Congress, and it’s frustrating to see what’s happened so far. The 2008 farm bill authorized the Alfalfa & Forage Research Program (AFRP), but Congress has yet to pony up the money.

For several years CAFA has asked California members of the House and Senate to help authorize funding. This year the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance (NAFA) may have made inroads that will open the door. NAFA’s D.C. Fly-In last February brought growers from around the country to meet with members of Congress and regulatory agencies. CAFA was represented Bob Ferguson of Stockton and Philip Bowles of Los Banos. The Fly-In this year focused on the Appropriations Committee.

In April we learned that South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson was circulating a letter to his colleagues to support funding for AFRP. Senator Johnson is known for his strong support for agriculture and he is on the powerful Appropriations Committee.

If Sen. Johnson is successful, AFRP will tackle a number of research programs in 2013. Issues that NAFA are including: alfalfa’s yield and persistence, pest pressures, bio-energy potential of alfalfa and other forages, and reducing losses at harvest and storage. It’s too early to know for sure, but the Washington, D.C. Fly-In in February may have done its job and opened the beginning of an alfalfa/forage research program.

Fighting back

Last year this column had a small article about angry members of the House of Representatives who gave U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson an earful on the agency’s policies that make it difficult for agriculture. The representatives, including Jim Costa who represents California’s 20th District in the San Joaquin Valley, didn’t pull punches and expressed their anger.

Last March the U.S. Supreme Court did what Congress hasn’t done in curbing one of the EPA’s strict regulations — wetlands. The path to the Supreme Court began when Mike and Channtel Sackett started building a home in Priest Lake, Idaho. Despite having permits, EPA swooped down and said the property was a wetland. The Sacketts were adamant that it wasn’t a wetland, but EPA refused a hearing. They were told to restore the land or pay a fine of up to $75,000 per day.

(For more, see: EPA hunting bullfrogs with shotgun in Sackett case)

The Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation represented the Sacketts and the Supreme Court’s 9 to 0 ruling was a victory for landowners. The Supreme Court’s ruling may possibly open the door to challenge the EPA on other laws, according to some attorneys. In an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court ruled that the EPA can’t impose fines up to $75,000 a day without letting property owners challenge the agency’s actions.

But, according to Justice Samuel Alito, Congress needs to revamp the Clean Water Act because it is “notoriously unclear. Any piece of land that is wet at least part of the year is in danger of being classified by EPA employees as wetlands covered by the act. Real relief requires Congress to do what it should have done in the first place: provide a reasonably clear rule regarding the reach of the Clean Water Act.”