A year ago we were listening to people in the know who were giving us their insights into the 2007 acreage picture for alfalfa. Unlike this year, there was a range of best-guess estimates from no change to a 10 percent jump.

A 10 percent increase would have added about 100,000 acres of alfalfa. Based on our small sample, it appeared that the 10 percent increase was the most common forecast. But, when the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NAAS) released its June forecast, the 10 percent figure turned out to be on the minus side. A 10 percent decrease pushed alfalfa acreage below the one million acre mark for the first time in 10 years.

While the alfalfa forecast was for 950,000 acres in 2007, other forages took a big jump. Other hays were forecast at 620,000 acres, a 90,000-acre increase over 2006. It was one of the bigger surprises for 2007, due in part to increased sudangrass plantings made by dairymen who utilized the forage for dry cows.

This year, best-guess estimates seem to lean toward the same figure as last year’s 950,000 acres. We haven’t heard anyone yet make a prediction that acreage will likely increase. In fact, there’s a good case for a decrease in alfalfa acreage despite the 2007 record-breaking hay market.

Water allotments, of course, are a major concern and as of mid-December rain and snow levels were worrisome. Add in the number of other crops with a good profit potential, especially wheat, and it’s easy to understand why some sources believe there will be fewer alfalfa acres in California this year.

The low desert is one area where there will no doubt be fewer acres. The Imperial and Palo Verde valleys combined could be about 15,000 acres lower due to water agreements that are in place in 2008. Also, Imperial Valley growers are jumping on the Durum wheat bandwagon and acreage may be twice as high as 2007.

While 2007 was a record-breaking year for the hay market, it was also a high production year. In October, NASS released its production report with a forecast of 7.2 tons, the highest average yield for California in the past 10 years. The high production, however, didn’t fill the gap for demand, and hay shipped into California also set record highs.

Given the supply-demand picture, there’s little or no argument that the 2008 hay market will start strong and likely stay that way as long as dairymen can turn a profit. It’s a development that needs to be watched carefully, since milk production costs are rising and there’s a forecast for lower milk prices in the months ahead.

Thanks are in order.

Each year industry members step up to the plate to help support CAFA’s Annual Meeting breakfast, which is held in December at UC’s Alfalfa & Forage Symposium. Last month’s Annual Meeting was supported by Western Ag Enterprises, CertainTeed Corp, FMC Corp., and by two Stockton, CA companies, Mid Cal Tractor and Magnum Equipment Co., and by Garton Tractor Inc. of Turlock, Calif.

CAFA would be remiss if it didn’t acknowledge the San Joaquin Valley Hay Growers Association of Tracy, Calif. for its generous donations in 2007. Industry support is vital to keep an association moving forward and CAFA greatly appreciates the support received from all who made donations during the year.