Over the last several years of working for CAFA we've had a number of interesting and annoying calls and emails.
Last month we received a call that was both interesting and annoying. We were at a loss for answers that would help the caller. She was angry because the cost of buying alfalfa for her five horses — her “pets” — was taking a big bite out of her income.
We can certainly sympathize with horse owners. We have good memories of riding horseback on the farm and there were two draft horses in the old barn that were kept around, mainly for show. Unfortunately, we've heard over the last year or two that irresponsible horse owners are abandoning their animals because, we're told, they can't afford to buy hay.
The caller was pointing the finger at alfalfa growers for being greedy and compared the situation to the price-gouging oil companies. That was the annoying part of the conversation, along with the accusation that growers are cleaning up on the high price of hay and the “subsidies” they get. Added to that was a claim that alfalfa, like other ag commodities, can not exceed a certain price level.
We made it as clear as possible that alfalfa growers do not receive subsidies and prices are subject to supply and demand. We also pointed out that grower inputs have skyrocketed recently, but that didn't seem to get a response. Unless she rides a horse wherever she goes, she should notice that fuel prices have gone up significantly. We also pointed to the water situation and higher costs for fertilizer and other inputs.
The longer the conversation went the more it became apparent that it was a lost cause. It was frustrating to not be able to give much advice on how to cope with current hay prices. When Timothy hay was brought up we got an ear full of how much it costs.
All we could think of was a referral to a university equine nutritionist who might have ways to cut feed costs. The other thought was to join with horse owners in the area and buy large quantities of hay.
After looking back at the conversation, it was a reminder that our dysfunctional legislature has ignored the need for more water storage. Along with the stranglehold environmentalists have on water issues, it's obvious who should shoulder the blame.
During our eight years of working with CAFA we've been fortunate to work with two industry icons — the late Jim Kuhn, whose life was cut short by a vehicle accident, and Mel Coelho, who passed away in August. Both were founding members of CAFA and served on the board of directors. Listing Mel's accomplishments, including his 37 years of guiding the San Joaquin Valley Hay Growers Association, would fill this column and then some. He played an important role in getting CAFA up and running during the formative years and stayed on the CAFA board until he retired from the SJV Hay Growers Association in 2003.
Mel will be missed by all who knew him and CAFA will honor his memory at the California Alfalfa Symposium.