A recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece attempting to link increased alfalfa hay exports to China with water issues in the western U.S. is an example of “people with an agenda,” says Aaron Kiess.
It’s attempting to portray alfalfa as a crop that’s not environmentally friendly, adds Kiess, executive director of the California Alfalfa and Forage Association (CAFA).
“It’s a perception that we’ve been fighting for a long time. And it’s something that we will probably be fighting for a long time to come. It burns me.”
The article, claiming that the U.S. will ship around 50 billion gallons of water to China in the form of alfalfa hay exports, was by Peter Culp, a Phoenix, AZ, attorney, and Robert Glennon, a University of Arizona professor of law and public policy. They say those exports make no sense at a time when many parts of the western U.S. struggle with severe water shortages.
“Instead of exporting alfalfa grown in the water-starved West, the U.S. could capture more of the economic benefit of the embedded water by feeding it to cows here, supporting the growth of the dairy and milk-processing industries. The strange situation illustrates what is wrong about how we think, or rather don't think, about water policy in the U.S.”
Kiess is not sure how the authors came up with the 50-billion-gallon number, but he finds it's “normal” that they chose to single out alfalfa for criticism. He adds that the authors’ reference to alfalfa as a “water-guzzling crop” was way off the mark.
“They didn’t do their research. If they had, they would know that alfalfa is a high-yielding crop that’s highly efficient when it comes to water use.” He adds that, in the 11 Western states that grow alfalfa, only 6% of the crop will be exported this year.
CAFA and other farm groups need to continue countering misinformation about alfalfa and agriculture in general, says Kiess. His group has participated in the state’s Ag In The Classroom program and published and distributed a 24-page booklet, Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment: The Importance and Benefits of Alfalfa in the 21st Century.
“We have to be vigilant,” he says. “When people come up with misleading statements about alfalfa and our industry, we need to respond right away, challenge them and get the right information out there for the public to see.”