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Importance of wildlife habitat bodes well for alfalfa

Focusing the spotlight on the contributions that crops provide for wildlife will become a much bigger issue in the years to come, with alfalfa and other forages also being in the forefront.

Cary Blake’s article in the Dec. 18 Western Farm Press (Pilot project encourages rice, wildlife in Sacramento Valley) is a welcome piece of information that also bodes well for the alfalfa and forage industry. The rice industry’s partnership with Ducks Unlimited has been a big success and now they’re taking part in a pilot program in the Sacramento Valley that includes the California Rice Commission and several environmental organizations. The goal is to develop viable management practices that promote habitats and increase wildlife. 

Focusing the spotlight on the contributions that crops provide for wildlife will become a much bigger issue in the years to come, with alfalfa and other forages also being in the forefront. In 2009 CAFA met with Audubon California and followed up in 2010 with discussions that centered on how growers can enhance farming practices to make wildlife habitat even more attractive and safe.   

A presentation last December at the UC Alfalfa & Forage Symposium prepared by Audubon California’s C.A. Hartman, Shorebird Conservation Biologist, and K. Kyle, brought up the issue of the “urbanization of the rural landscape”. Central Valley cities are some of the fastest growing in California and open space is shrinking as new homes are paving over farmland.

The Audubon presentation was titled Farming for Birds: Alfalfa and Forages as Valuable Wildlife Habitat and pointed out that alfalfa “supports some of the highest biodiversity” among field crops. A number of bird species are highly dependent on forages. For example, the Tricolored Blackbird has more than 40 percent of its world population nesting in California forage crops.

Greater recognition of how forages play an important role for wildlife will be a bigger factor as more farmland is lost in the next 20 years or so. Over the next 20 years it’s predicted that California’s population will hit the 50 million mark and the Central Valley will see a huge population increase. According to the American Farmland Trust the population growth could cause the loss of one million acres of irrigated farmland, a development that has major consequences for California’s rich wildlife diversity.

During California’s three-year drought some environmental organizations and policy makers downgraded alfalfa’s importance and called for a reduction in acreage. They evidently didn’t understand the consequences and importance of wildlife habitat, an issue that is finally beginning to get its just due. In 2009 the federal agencies’ biological opinion shut down water deliveries to protect Delta smelt, which idled 500,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley. Looking back now we wonder how much consideration if any was given to the negative effect on wildlife habitat. In the future it should get considerable thought when biological opinions are offered.

Annual meeting

For the past eight years CAFA has hosted a breakfast meeting on the second day of the UC Alfalfa & Forage Symposium and is supported by donations. CAFA extends it appreciation for the donations that were received from S&W Seed Company, Integra Fortified Seed, Wilbur-Ellis Company, and Western Ag Enterprises, Inc.

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