More than 40 representatives of the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance (NAFA) will be heading back to the nation’s capital Feb. 12-14 for the group’s third-annual Washington, D.C., Fly-In.

“When something works, you stay with it,” says Jon Dockter, associate director at NAFA. “And we feel this approach is working. It’s like football. You don’t get a touchdown on every play, but you keep moving the ball and finding ways to make progress.”

The fly-in aims to raise the visibility of forages and alfalfa among national-level policymakers. Along with talking to members of the agriculture and agricultural appropriations committees in the U.S. House and Senate, fly-in participants will meet with officials from USDA and its National Agricultural Statistics Service as well as from the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies.

“It’s important for us to keep our name out in front of people in Washington,” says Mark Rogen, a Garretson, SD, producer and former state senator. He took part in the first two fly-ins and plans to do so again this year. “A lot of people don’t realize that alfalfa and forages are the third most valuable crop (in dollar value) in the U.S.”

“We don’t have the checkoff dollars like they do in corn, wheat, soybeans and other agricultural commodities. The fly-in gives us a voice.”

Funding for the Alfalfa and Forage Research Program (AFRP), authorized as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, will be a focal point for the NAFA contingent this year. “We were able to get the Senate to authorize funding in their markup for the new Farm Bill. Now we need to encourage the House to put language about the program in their version of the Farm Bill,” says Rogen.

In the meetings with policymakers, NAFA members hope to show there’s a direct link between inadequate research funding and the 16% decline in U.S. alfalfa acreage over the past decade.

“We want to continue to educate them about the value of alfalfa and forages in terms of soil conservation, energy savings, wildlife habitat and more,” says Dockter. “And we want them to understand that a lot of research needs aren’t being met.”