One of CAFA's priorities this year is to make a concerted effort to bring in new members to give the alfalfa and forage industry a more powerful voice. When the Association was first formed, one of CAFA's founding members noted that the alfalfa and forage industry had lacked a "focused voice."
As many growers and industry members know, there has been more than one attempt to organize on a statewide basis. In the early 1990s before CAFA was established, an alfalfa research referendum was nearly approved by California growers. The California Farm Bureau and the California Crop Improvement Association were key supporters in trying to make the statewide effort work, which is no small task. The referendum fell just short of enough votes to qualify under guidelines set by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
From what we were told by those who worked on the project, the growers who sent ballots to the CDFA voted in favor of the referendum. However, the CDFA did not receive enough ballots to meet the minimum threshold. To our knowledge, it was the second failed try at establishing a commission for the alfalfa industry.
Without a large funding source, CAFA is primarily dependent on memberships to continue advocating on behalf of growers. Unless grant money is available, research takes a back seat. On the other hand, CAFA has been successful in a number of areas in the past several years. For example, the Association has supported pesticide registrations, and presented grower concerns to regulators on issues such as the weed-free forage program and water quality regulations.
In the not-too-distant future state associations like CAFA should get a boost as the recently formed National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA) gets up to speed. NAFA is a restructuring of the National Alfalfa Alliance and the new organization is focusing on legislative and regulatory issues. Its 18-member board includes "equal representation" from alfalfa seed growers and suppliers, state and regional hay and forage associations and allied industries.
One of NAFA's first tests will be the next farm bill, with the emphasis on promoting more alfalfa and forage research. NAFA will have a presence in Washington, D.C., and give CAFA another organization to partner with on key issues. CAFA has partnered with the California Farm Bureau and more recently, with Western United Dairymen, to work on issues of mutual interest. Working with established ag groups that can get their voices heard is obviously a plus for a relatively new organization like CAFA. As CAFA's membership continues to grow, the Association will become a more effective force in advocating on behalf of growers and other industry members.