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Column: Uphill battle gives insight into legislative process

As a relatively new Association, CAFA is continuing to venture into new territory to be an effective advocate for the alfalfa and forage industry. The latest effort is encouraging the USDA Agricultural Research Service to bring its resources and expertise to California to work on dairy-forage systems in western states.

The effort received a boost in July when members of Congress signed a letter sent to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns, asking the ARS to establish new positions in California. The letter was circulated to other members of the California Delegation by Congressmen Devin Nunes (21st District) and Robert Filner (51st District) before being forwarded to Secretary Johanns.

Other California members of Congress who signed the letter include, Wally Herger (2nd District)’ Richard Pombo (11th District), Sam Farr (17th District), Ellen Tauscher (10th District), Dennis Cardoza (18th District), George Radanovich (19th District) and Jim Costa (20th District).

CAFA’s effort to encourage the ARS to address the needs of western agriculture started about two years ago and was intensified this year. In mid-March, CAFA asked 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.

The California Farm Bureau and Western United Dairymen also contacted members of Congress. A number of CAFA members contacted their congressmen and the newly formed National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance lent support to the project.

The first response last spring was from congressman Filner who took up the issue and began working with several colleagues including congressman Nunes. Filner’s district includes Imperial County, the second largest alfalfa-producing county in California. Nunes’ district includes parts of Tulare and Fresno counties.

When CAFA began contacting members of Congress in mid-March, however, the appropriations process had closed. Initially, several congressional offices weighed the possibility of amending the 2007 funding bill for the Department of Agriculture.

That idea was shelved for several reasons. Congressman Herger recently sent letters to two CAFA Board members citing the difficulties of introducing an amendment. One factor was an “offset” requirement, meaning that funding would have to be reduced in another portion of the bill. The decision was made to regroup and urge USDA to include a “California research allocation” in next year’s ARS budget.

While the effort was set back, CAFA took another step in learning the process of dealing with legislative issues. The support and advice received from Farm Bureau and Western United Dairymen was extremely helpful. The project is an opportunity to work more closely with the dairy industry, something CAFA has been striving to accomplish.

An ARS presence will give the alfalfa and forage industry and dairy industry more help with regulatory issues, including water quality and other challenges, such as water conservation. For the dairy industry, waste management and air quality are key issues.

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.

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