Column: Uphill battle gives insight into legislative process

As a relatively new association now in its seventh year, CAFA is continuing to venture into new territory to be an effective advocate for the alfalfa and forage industry. The latest effort involves a program that started about two years ago — getting the USDA Agricultural Service to bring its resources to California to fill research gaps for dairy-forage systems in western states and complement work being done by universities.

In mid-March, CAFA asked a number of California congressmen to take up the cause and allocate funds for ARS positions that would benefit the alfalfa and forage industry and the dairy industry, as well. CAFA was able to get major support from the California Farm Bureau and Western United Dairymen. In addition, a number of CAFA members throughout the state contacted their congressmen to ask for support.

One congressman who responded, Bob Filner, Democrat from Chula Vista, took up the issue and worked with other congressmen, including Devin Nunes, Republican from Visalia, to offer an amendment to the Ag Appropriations bill. Filner represents California's 51st district, which includes Imperial County, the second largest alfalfa producing county in the state. Nunes represents California's 21st district, which includes parts of Tulare and Fresno counties.

By the time CAFA began contacting members of Congress, however, the ag appropriations process had already closed. Filner and Nunes discussed possible options, but the decision was made to regroup and get an early start on next year's farm bill. CAFA will work with members of Congress to get the research positions in the annual appropriation, and hopefully in the USDA’s budget request for 2008.

While the effort is being set back, CAFA took another step in learning the complex process when it comes to dealing with legislative issues. The support and advice CAFA received from the Farm Bureau and Western United Dairymen were extremely helpful. Both organizations have extensive experience and provided valuable insight.

The project is also giving CAFA an opportunity to work with the dairy industry on a mutual issue, something the Association has been striving to accomplish. Approximately 80 percent of the alfalfa produced in California is purchased by the state's dairy industry and both industries need to work together whenever possible.

CAFA members have been continually updated in newsletters on the association's mission to expand dairy forage systems research for California and other western states. It's a project that needs to be brought to a successful conclusion to help both the alfalfa and forage industry and the dairy industry to cope with regulatory issues, including water quality and other challenges, such as water conservation. In the case of the dairy industry, waste management and air quality are key issues that need to be dealt with on a large scale.

As noted in a "white paper" sent to California congressmen, dairy forage systems research is primarily centered at ARS facilities in the Midwest and eastern states. The lack of research for irrigated agriculture in western states needs to be addressed and by this time next year CAFA will hopefully receive a positive response for a program that will benefit California's alfalfa and forage industry and the state's dairy industry.

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