Based largely on the success of a similar event last year, the National Alfalfa And Forage Alliance (NAFA)will be conducting its second Washington, DC, fly-in, set for Feb. 14-16.

Last year, nearly 50 producers and industry representatives from 29 states participated in the group’s first-ever fly-in, designed to increase the visibility of the alfalfa industry among federal agencies and the U.S. Congress.

This year’s event is particularly timely as Congress prepares to map out a new farm bill. “We want to make sure that we’re represented in the discussion,” says Jon Dockter, NAFA associate director. ‘There’s always value to interacting with the people who shape the policies and regulations that affect producers and our industry. An event like the fly-in sends the message that this is an industry that is vigorous and proactive and wants to be part of the process.”

Jay Fielding of Hillside Farms in Firth, ID, is one of the producers who will be making a return trip to Washington as part of the 2012 fly-in. He describes last year’s trip as an eye-opener. “I had never been back to that part of the country,” says Fielding, who grows 200-700 acres of alfalfa in rotation with wheat and potatoes. “It was definitely interesting to see how things work.”

Fielding, who is a board member of the Idaho Hay and Forage Association, was part of a group that met with Environmental Protection Agency officials to discuss Roundup Ready alfalfa and new regulations proposed for irrigation wastewater. He also met with U.S. House and Senate members serving on the agriculture and appropriations committees. “We were looking to get funding for research for a bee-pollination project in Utah and a hay-testing lab in Washington (State),” he explains.

Bringing “some awareness” about the hay industry to agency officials and elected representatives makes participating in the fly-in worthwhile, according to Fielding. “When you look at the other commodities and how they’re represented in Washington, it’s pretty obvious that hay is not in the same ballpark. It’s not even close. For the two projects we were looking at, the total funding cost was about $5 million. When wheat or corn growers go back there, they’re talking about funding programs with costs of a billion dollars and more.

“It’s important for the hay industry to take steps that will help move the issues that are important to us off the back burner and to the forefront of the agenda.”