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California Alfalfa & Forage Association

CAFA recently received a request from a grower member asking for ammunition on behalf of a student whose instructor is constantly “bashing” alfalfa. While troubling, it's not unusual to hear of people taking potshots at alfalfa since there are many misconceptions about California's largest acreage crop.

A book entitled Cadillac Deser, was the spark that ignited the effort to form a statewide advocacy group in 1998 to represent the interests of California's alfalfa and forage industry. The author, Marc Reisner, listed alfalfa as one of several low value, high-water using crops that shouldn't be grown in California. The book was the basis for a documentary film series that was first seen on Public Broadcasting stations in 1997.

To his credit Reisner, a well known environmentalist, was willing to meet with concerned growers and industry members who later formed CAFA. The meeting helped him re-evaluate the importance and value of alfalfa and view the crop in a more favorable light before his untimely death at age 51 in July of 2000.

Environmentalists taking aim at agriculture, California's largest industry is nothing new, of course. But in the case of the instructor who has been bashing alfalfa, it was surprising to learn that he teaches agricultural students. To give the student as much ammunition as possible, CAFA sent a copy of its 24-page booklet, Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment, and the wall poster/brochure, Alfalfa, Queen of Forages.

Both the booklet and wall poster/brochure, authored by UC Davis Extension Agronomist Dan Putnam and other university sources, have been widely distributed and favorably reviewed since being published in 2001. It will be interesting to learn how the information impacts the latest example of alfalfa bashing that has been called to CAFA's attention.

Meanwhile, CAFA is continuing to carry out its mission of creating greater awareness of alfalfa by joining the Ag in the Classroom program. An alfalfa fact sheet is in the final stages of preparation and will be widely distributed to school children throughout California.

Reason for optimism

A CAFA board member who attended the California Farm Bureau's Hay Commodity Committee meeting in February reported that he sensed a more positive outlook. The first thought that came to mind was the forecast for a strong hay market in 2004. But that was only part of the reason cited for a change in attitude. The other reason is the new administration in Sacramento and the belief that the workers comp mess will finally be straightened out, a priority of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In early March the governor appeared on Fox News and, in a one-on-one interview, talked about the many businesses that have fled the state because of out-of-control workers comp costs. Then, he pointed out that the problem has also been a hardship for agriculture. It was refreshing to hear a California governor recognize agriculture for a change.

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