If it wasn’t so dramatic, maybe I wouldn’t talk so much about it, but the latest USDA estimate of 560,000 alfalfa hay acres in California for 2019 was down 10 percent from 2018 and 49 percent lower than just 13 years ago when there were 1.1 million acres.
Much of the decline is coming in from Central California, where water availability and costs combined with the reality of future water reductions due to groundwater regulations have pushed alfalfa hay acres to 100-year lows. Due to drip irrigation and profitability, almonds are the main crop replacing alfalfa hay in both the central and northern valleys.
Another factor that has caused alfalfa hay acres to drop is the tough financial condition of the dairy industry the past few years. Dairies are using less alfalfa hay in milk cow rations. But there are still 1.735 million dairy cows in California, and many dairies still want to keep some alfalfa hay in the ration. It is interesting that in the Imperial Valley of California, where exports are a bigger demand driver, alfalfa hay acres are up 5 percent from 2018.