The first Canadian company to deliver alfalfa hay into the lucrative Chinese market: Green Prairie International, Inc., a global, wholesale supplier of forage products based in Alberta.

Twenty containers of alfalfa were shipped to China and another 40 containers are on order, according to an announcement early last week by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Estimated value of the alfalfa was $600,000 in Canadian dollars.

"This is the first of many shipments as China's growing demand translates into new sales opportunities for Canadian producers, and jobs and growth for our economy," said Gerry Ritz, Canada’s agriculture minister. "This is solid evidence that Canadian exporters are taking advantage of new market access secured by this government."

"We are extremely excited by this new marketing opportunity between Canada and China," added John Van Hierden, president and CEO of Green Prairie International. "This will create unprecedented opportunities for the Canadian forage industry. We believe this will create important economic and cultural benefits to both Canada and China."

The Canadian government is also negotiating new market access for timothy hay. The total worldwide exports of Canadian alfalfa and timothy hay, meal and pellets were worth over $85 million in 2011.

China's hay-and-forage product imports increased significantly in the last five years, from $119,000 in 2006 to over $103 million in 2011.