Forage funding remains a part of the 2012 Farm Bill. A provision authorizing a research and Extension program for alfalfa and other forage crops was still in place last week as the bill moved out of the Senate Ag Committee to the full Senate.

Will the House of Representatives keep the Alfalfa & Forage Research Program (AFRP) intact when it tackles farm-bill legislation in coming weeks? “We are hopeful,” answers Beth Nelson, president of the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA), a major backer of the program.

Longer term, the question is whether Congress, even if it gives its final blessing to the program, will come through with funds once a new bill is law. AFRP was actually authorized as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, but Congress didn’t appropriate funds to it.

AFRP research that would be conducted includes alfalfa’s yield and persistence, pest pressures, bio-energy potential of alfalfa and other forages, and reducing losses at harvest and storage. Funding would be doled out through a competitive process administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The fact that Congress is at least considering AFRP again represents a victory for growers of alfalfa and other forages, says Nelson. “This shows we are gaining some awareness. Alfalfa is the fourth-most-valuable crop grown in the U.S. But the amount of federal money that’s been available to the alfalfa industry for research in the past decade pales when compared to corn, soybean, wheat and many other crops.”

The budget for alfalfa research by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service is $3.7 million and fewer than 10 scientists are working on alfalfa-related projects, she notes. That compares to $44.6 million in funding and 110 scientists for corn and $41.1 million and 95 scientists for wheat. “We want to make sure that, when congressional staffers are working on major policy, they’re at least thinking about alfalfa and other forage crops,” she says.

Many Washington insiders say it’s unlikely that the House will begin working on its Farm Bill version until the Senate measure is finalized. With 180 amendments proposed to the Senate bill as of early last week, passage could still be several weeks away. The current Farm Bill expires Sept. 30.

See a summary of the Senate Ag Committee’s Farm-Bill proposal.