The once leading area of alfalfa hay production in California from Kern to Merced Counties is changing. With the tremendous shift to trees, mainly almonds, alfalfa hay acres have been declining. Almonds continue to be profitable in spite of growing acres and production.
While some of the decline in alfalfa hay acres can be attributed to the weak financial condition of the dairy industry, water has and will become a bigger issue in the future. For example, a state regulation passed on the use of groundwater, particularly in Central California, will push more land into higher value crops that use drip irrigation, such as almonds and grapes.Using surface water as an alternative doesn’t look very bright when the surface water allocation from the Bureau of Reclamation for the coming season in Central California is 65 percent at a time when snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is 162 percent of the historical average. Crops like alfalfa hay will have a tough time competing in Central California in the years ahead due to high water costs and availability.