Dedicated. Industrious. Inventive. Those are just three of a host of positive adjectives that pop into my mind as I talk with growers, forage specialists and leaders from each of the three national organizations that largely represent the forage industry.
Those groups, the National Hay Association (NHA), the American Forage and Grassland Council (AFGC) and the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA), have the like-minded goal to represent the forage industry to the best of their ability.
But can each organization serve best by serving only within its own membership or can they serve even better as a united effort?
As I have gotten to know each group, it appears that NHA largely represents commercial hay growers and dealers and works to provide marketing opportunities for its members and their customers. It's a great grower-marketer networking group.
AFGC is a conglomeration of researchers, industry representatives, graziers and hay growers. At this point, the organization meets just once a year for jam-packed sessions to exchange new research and grower information. It is perceived by some as an Eastern U.S. group (see “President Works To Broaden AFGC,” page 35), while NAFA has been regarded as a predominately Western organization.
NAFA, too, has a member mix that includes state and regional grower groups, seed and other private industry representatives and university experts, and is heavily supported by the seed industry. Its mission is to “ensure the ability of all segments of the alfalfa and forage industry to compete effectively and profitably, domestically and abroad.”
NAFA's major achievements have been in representing the forage and seed industry, largely alfalfa, in Washington, although the other two groups have also had a presence there.
Leaders I've talked with from all three groups have expressed interest in meeting together to look more at what they have in common than at their differences. But no action has been taken.
Why should those groups join forces?
County Extension agents, forage specialists and researchers are being laid off or not replaced around the country. Who is providing the pressure to fill these positions?
Forage researchers are having a time getting funding for research that doesn't have anything to do with biofuels. One spokesperson said they're looked at as “second-class researchers.” Who will assure adequate USDA-ARS and land-grant commitment to research and education, currently at very low levels?
Growth within the forage industry is threatened. Will new tools — pesticides, biotechnology, seeds, equipment, new uses — be developed?
NAFA has worked to get alfalfa mentioned in U.S. farm legislation — will forage crops ever have a presence in Washington?
Other commodities are fighting for fair trucking and road regulations. What about the forage industry?
Our industry is graying; organizations see fewer and fewer participants in their 20s, 30s and even 40s.
Dan Putnam, University of California Extension forage specialist, tells of a “continual barrage of criticism of alfalfa, as to whether or not we should even produce alfalfa in irrigated regions. Forages have such a good story to tell in terms of environmental benefits; I don't think we've been that successful in telling it.”
These are some of the pressing issues the forage industry should be addressing as a unified endeavor.
Miles Kuhn, AFGC president, said it best in a recent conversation on just this topic. “The bigger the voice, the more noise we're going to make.”
So let's make noise — together.