Of new alfalfa plantings being seeded this spring, a “fairly high percentage have been put in as Roundup Ready alfalfa,” says Dan Putnam, University of California Extension forage specialist.

“The main thing that’s affecting all alfalfa plantings is the competition with other crops. A lot of wheat acres had gone in last fall, and there are probably people planting corn because corn prices are very good. There are opportunities for planting cotton in many parts of California. The cotton acreage has risen significantly this year compared to the past year or two because of world demand and price. Economics are the primary factor,” he says.

Although alfalfa prices are also high – some hay is going for $320 delivered from the Imperial Valley to Central Valley dairies – annual crops can offer growers a faster return than can alfalfa.

Hay growers are deciding first whether to plant alfalfa at all, then whether to plant Roundup Ready alfalfa or conventional, Putnam says. “The Roundup Ready technology has been attractive to many growers, but we will see more plantings in the fall than this spring.”

Alfalfa growers in the Imperial Valley, which exports a lot of hay and seed, are not planting the genetically engineered (GE) crop, he adds. “They’re quite concerned about their alfalfa hay and alfalfa seed crops being accepted by foreign buyers. So they want to make sure they can continue to grow non-GE crops as long as that’s what the buyers want.”

Growers are largely prevented from planting Roundup Ready alfalfa in this region because of the Imperial Valley Use Agreement that sets strict distance limits and other restrictions for planting the crop there. The agreement is enforced through contracts with seed companies, similar to how it was done in 2005-06, Putnam says.