Alfalfa critics ride no-export bandwagon

It hasn’t taken very long for clueless critics to embrace the latest gripe — exporting hay. Last month’s column ( mentioned a letter to the editor published in a farm magazine, with the writer stating that a “good majority” of alfalfa is shipped overseas. “This hay is not grown to feed our country,” he wrote. Wrong!

Anyone who’s familiar with the alfalfa market or researches the topic knows that nearly all the hay produced in California stays in-state or is shipped to neighboring states. Nonetheless, even the small amount of alfalfa hay that’s exported (2 percent to 3 percent in 2008) was scrutinized in a June 10 online article in Miller-McCune.

It’s tempting to shrug off the criticism and hope it goes away. But, letting it slide will eventually turn a falsehood into reality. We were reminded of that recently when Congressman George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, was interviewed on a Bay Area radio station to address the Delta smelt fiasco. Or as he calls it, the “man-made drought.” A caller with an agenda claimed that 80 percent of California’s water goes to farming. That 80 percent figure is the mantra of environmental propagandists and frequently surfaces in the mainstream media. As we’ve noted before, allocation of federal and state developed water for agriculture has been at the 41 percent level, while 48 percent has been dedicated to the environment.

At the end of the interview, Radanovich made a statement that should wake up anyone who thinks Californians can shrug off the current situation that puts smelt at the top of the food chain. The congressman warned that if the current situation isn’t corrected, we’ll be buying “our gas and food from Hugo Chavez” in Venezuela. His comment brings up something that often gets ignored when a policy is recommended or instituted; what are the consequences? In the case of the Miller-McCune article, there was no real effort to weigh the consequences of curbing or halting exporting of hay. For example, ships that unload goods in the Port of Long Beach fill containers with hay for the trip back to Japan.

Not having a product to ship on the return trip would have consequences, noted Scott Emanuelli, a CAFA board member who farms in the Imperial Valley. “The hay and other commodity exports help our trade balance and think how upset people would be if their Honda’s, Toyotas, and LG TV’s started to go up in price because the cargo companies had nothing to put in those containers ... to use as a backhaul.”

Over the last several months CAFA has intensified its efforts to respond to critics and people who shape policies, citing the benefits alfalfa provides. For example, it’s a low-input crop that’s universally recognized as a foundation for sustainable agriculture and an important wildlife habitat. Alfalfa also makes a significant contribution to air quality by sequestering carbon and nitrogen and, of course, it protects against water and wind erosion.

UC Extension Forage Specialist Dan Putman was interviewed for the online article and pointed out flaws in the criticism surrounding water use and exports. He hit the nail on the head when he summed it up by saying, “We should allow farmers to make intelligent decisions about what crops to grow.”

TAGS: Alfalfa
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