Looking back over this year, the 2008 alfalfa season had plenty of positives and as usual, there were also some negatives. In CAFA's October newsletter, Seth Hoyt's lead article was entitled, “The 2008 Hay Market — the good, the bad and the ugly.” As growers and other industry members know, Hoyt is the market guru whose weekly newsletter (www.thehoytreport.com ) takes an in-depth look at all of the factors that drive hay prices.
At the time Hoyt wrote the article for CAFA, the “bad and the ugly” centered primarily on recent developments in the dairy industry, which of course are the forces that dictate the direction the market will take. It's not hard to guess what the “good' referred to in the article. The 2008 hay prices opened even higher than 2007, giving alfalfa growers a chance to make money despite the surge in fuel costs, fertilizer and other inputs.
As the old saying goes, money makes the world go around and that was evident in 2008. Let's face it, would anyone pay attention to Donald Trump if he wasn't a real estate tycoon worth billions of dollars?
Despite being the state's largest acreage crop, alfalfa often seems to be an afterthought. More attention was given to alfalfa this year as the combination of higher prices and tight supplies became much more of an issue than in previous years.
From our vantage point, it's obvious that more people are taking a serious look at alfalfa and that was evident in both ag and non-agricultural sectors. This year we received significantly more calls from media outlets asking for comments or for names of alfalfa growers who could be interviewed for articles.
On the flip side, however, alfalfa wasn't forgotten when the mainstream media interviewed so-called environmentalists to talk about the drought. Not surprisingly, they perpetuated the myth that alfalfa is a water-wasting crop that has a low value. Since alfalfa's farm gate value is now estimated at more than $1 billion annually, there was more ammunition to counter the low value claim that has plagued the industry. Alfalfa is intertwined with the dairy and beef industries, a combination that has a combined farm gate value of more than $7 billion.
As reported in previous columns, CAFA responded to negative articles that appeared in the Los Angeles Time and the San Francisco Chronicle. The two environmentalists who were quoted received letters that were highly critical of their statements of water use and crop value. Surprisingly, they both responded and clarified their positions, leaving the impression that they were willing to listen to our concerns.
One other issue that should be included on the plus side in 2008 is progress being made by the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA), which has spent a considerable amount of time working with legislators in Washington, D.C. Thanks to NAFA's efforts, the new farm bill contains language that provides for forage research funding.
CAFA has joined with other hay associations in asking the House and Senate appropriations committees to authorize an initial appropriation of $3 million. It's a small amount given the need for research nationwide, but it's a good start and Congress is finally beginning to recognize the importance of the alfalfa and forage industry.