Monday, November 10, 2014

Alfalfa Season Winds Down after a Wild Year for Growers



Valley alfalfa growers are ready to call it a season.

Field scout Carlos Silva says there are some fields remaining to be harvested one last time in 2014. Look for the final cutting to start this week. For the most part, he says, “everything is wrapping up.”
 
A Valley grower bales freshly cut alfalfa.
Whew. This year certainly has been a wild roller coaster ride for growers and alfalfa, the crop with the largest acreage in California. Of course, we all know the culprit: D-R-O-U-G-H-T – a topic that dominated the chatter at local coffee shops, the state Capitol, the governor’s office and even the White House.
 
Let’s review some of the headlines and story lines in 2014. In January, two University of California at Davis ag experts wrote that “the continued drought in California will have serious impacts to forage production in 2014. In the Central Valley, it is expected that growers will shift water resources from alfalfa to trees and vines…” 

Dairies ended up feeding their cows less alfalfa this year.
Then in April a headline in the industry publication Hay & Forage Grower read: “First crop alfalfa sales brisk in Central California.”  Top-quality hay was fetching up to $350 a ton, up $80 a ton from the previous year.

By July, Hay & Forage reported “groundwater pumping is expected to replace most river water losses, with some areas more than doubling their pumping over the previous year.”
 
Then in September, a headline read: “California hay prices and alfalfa yields drop.” The best alfalfa was selling for $300 a ton as dairies fed their cows less hay. UC experts predicted a 20 percent decline in yields.

Then in October, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service issued its forecast, predicting California alfalfa hay production will raise 8 percent to 6.6 million tons from 2013.

We’ll have to wait for the final numbers to come in to see what kind of year it really has been for growers. One thing is certain: No one ever said faming is easy.

Growers were able to stretch their season until the fall.
On the bright side, growers were able to access enough water to continue their season into the fall and get their eight cuttings in as usual. Many thought they would be lucky if harvest lasted through June.

Meanwhile, on the pest front, Carlos reports bug problems were in check for most growers. There was a slight uptick in aphids early in the season and some issues with worms in fields but nothing widespread. Overall, Carlos says, “there weren’t many pest issues this year.”  At least, there was one silver lining for alfalfa growers.



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