Monday, September 30, 2013

Alfalfa Growers Prepare to Wrap Up 2013 Season

 As we head into October and cooler fall weather, alfalfa growers are wrapping the year with the final cutting of the season.

Some growers are irrigating their alfalfa fields 1 more time.
Some are looking to squeeze in one more cutting. Field scout Carlos Silva reports seeing a few growers irrigating their alfalfa field, trying to coax more growth for another cutting this fall. If successful, that could bring some extra money for the year.

This year, about 900,000 acres of alfalfa was projected to be harvested across the state, down 50,000 acres from 2012, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service in California. Production is forecast at 6.3 million tons, down 4 percent from 2012. But yield per acre is projected at 3.13 tons an acre this year compared to 3.01 tons in 2012.

Overall, California produces roughly 9 percent of the nation’s alfalfa hay with an annual value of nearly $1 billion. Fresno and Merced counties are among the top producing counties. 

Alfalfa is fetching an average of $200 a ton this season.
So far, farmers are getting about the same price per ton – an average of $200 – as in 2012, according to Friday’s USDA California Hay Report. Premium quality is selling for $230 a ton while the contract price for supreme is $285 a ton. Hey, doesn’t this sound like we’re talking about gasoline for cars rather than forage for cattle.

Few outside the ag community probably know there are different grades of alfalfa – just like a lot of commodities such as cotton and almonds.

Over the years, there has been talk about some growers opting for quality over yield. They have planted dormant alfalfa varieties in the northern San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Valley. These varieties are normally grown in places like Minnesota – a state known for ice fishing and International Falls, a city that averages 15 degrees in January.

Why go dormant? Well, dairy ranchers want higher quality feed for their cows.

University of California extension advisor and alfalfa expert Dan Putman says the trade-off with dormant varieties is yield – as much as 1 to 2½ tons per acre. The gamble pays off in down years for prices, meaning premiums are bigger for higher quality alfalfa.

Experts say planting dormant varieties could make sense for growers that are targeting the dairy industry. In the end, of course, it all boils down to commodity prices.

Cotton plants are starting to dry out.

In the meantime, Carlos reports most cotton growers have finished defoliating their fields. The cotton plants are drying up nicely, showing rich, white puffy lint. Growers are moving ahead with their harvesting plans. Soon, we’ll be hearing those cotton harvesters humming along in the fields.

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