Alfalfa checkoff program
Alfalfa is valuable for soil conservation, nitrogen fixation, and energy savings, but it must offer a competitive value for farmers to maintain or expand acreage. Nelson said getting recognized in national policy and receiving research funding can help keep alfalfa competitive with other crops.
Although the Alfalfa Forage and Research Program (AFRP) just received a $250,000 increase in funding, bringing the total funding for that program to $2.25 million, Nelson said it still pales in comparison to the funding other commodities receive.
“It became more critical to bring our own research dollars to the table,” Nelson said.
Their solution: an alfalfa checkoff program. A checkoff program is a means to collect funds from producers of certain agricultural commodities. These funds are then used to promote and conduct research on that particular commodity.
While other commodities have had checkoff programs for years, it has been difficult to create and implement one for alfalfa because most alfalfa is fed on-farm and not sold to an elevator. However, NAFA has worked with select seed brands within the last year to find an answer. For every bag of seed sold from select seed brands, $1 will be collected from the farmer for the alfalfa checkoff.
She said all of the funds will go toward public research – NAFA will not take any funding for administering the checkoff. The program is also entirely voluntary on two fronts. First, it is voluntary at the seed brand level as they can elect to participate in the checkoff. Second, it is voluntary at the farmer level as they can choose to purchase seed from a brand that participates in the checkoff. A list of the 27 facilitating brands can be found on the NAFA website.
Nelson is particularly proud that the program is entirely funded by the farmers with all funds going to alfalfa public research.
“We want it to be entirely farmer-driven,” Nelson said. “Research is critical for farmers.”
The checkoff funds will go toward public research in areas such as yield improvements; fertility, soil management, soil health, macro- and micronutrients; forage quality improvements; weed management strategies; insect management strategies; and cutting management strategies. These priorities were set by alfalfa farmers and industry leaders.
The program launched in January and NAFA will make the first collection from seed brands in July. Nelson said they are willing to work with anyone interested in funding research for alfalfa.
“I encourage alfalfa farmers to look at the list, and, if their preferred seed isn’t there, we can work with the seed marketer to see if it wants to become a facilitating checkoff brand,” Nelson said.
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