When the debt ceiling agreement was finalized last month there was a brief comment in the Hoyt Report, the weekly alfalfa hay market newsletter for California and other Western states. The debt ceiling comment prompted me to take a look at more articles in ag and non-ag publications to see how they responded and what they were forecasting.

Although it was just the beginning of what will be a bitter fight to determine which government programs get the ax, it wasn’t surprising that the consensus is that agriculture will take a big hit. Early this year we received an email from the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein that essentially said, “sorry to inform you, but we don’t have any money.” In the last several years CAFA has supported the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance’s effort to initiate a $3 million alfalfa research program. The program is in the 2008 farm bill, but Congress has yet to approve funding. CAFA has contacted several California members of Congress asking for help. Besides Feinstein’s response, a California congressman who’s a solid supporter of agriculture sent a letter this year stating that he won’t support funding for new programs.        

According to one report, members of Congress believe that agriculture is doing well and therefore the USDA can afford to give up a significant amount of its $100 billion budget. Ag committees and staff members in Congress are saying that programs might be cut by up to $40 billion over 10 years or more. The initial target will be direct payments and other types of safety-net programs.

The next three months will be interesting to say the least as members of the Joint Select Committee on Debt Reduction tackles its job. They’re required to have their first meeting no later than Sept. 16. The Committee’s recommendations will be acted on by Congress no later than Dec. 23 and amendments are not allowed. The Joint Select Committee is a 12-member panel comprised of six Democrats and six Republicans; three senators and three congressmen for each party. It’s being called a “bipartisan panel” and if it lives up to the bipartisan tag it will be nothing short of a miracle.

Western states conference

If you need an excuse to spend a few days in Las Vegas and get up-to-date information on alfalfa, corn silage and a host of other forages, log onto the UC Alfalfa Workgroup’s Website, alfalfa.ucdavis.edu. Registration is open for the 2011 Western Alfalfa & Forage Conference & Biofuels Workshop, which takes place at the Las Vegas Hilton. There’s a pre-conference agricultural tour to the Sandy Valley on Dec. 11, followed by a day-and-a-half conference on Dec. 12-13 that includes a Biofuels Workshop on the second day of the conference. The conference is sponsored by the UC Alfalfa Workgroup and the Cooperative Extension Services of 11 Western states. CAFA will have its annual meeting at the conference. The last Western states conference held in Las Vegas was in 2000 and drew a large crowd; a good turnout is expected again this year.