As alfalfa acreage drops, so do sponsorships of forage associations
The founder and president of the Midwest Forage Association said major companies have exited the alfalfa seed industry, and as a result, have had an impact on its funding sources.
WISCONSIN DELLS, Wisc. — At an annual gathering last month, the Midwest Forage Association (MFA) — the largest affiliate of the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA), discussed ways to increase sponsorship funding as larger companies exit the alfalfa seed industry.
"Together, our job is to have a voice for the forage industry," said Beth Nelson, founder and president of MFA.
Nelson addressed MFA members at this year's Midwest Forage Association Symposium , held in Wisconsin Dells on Feb. 20-22. The symposium is also when MFA holds its annual meeting.
"We have about 400 people here, even with the snowstorm, and we try and focus on what new research is out there, and that we should be sharing with the farmers," Nelson said on Feb. 21.
The annual symposium is the largest educational event that MFA hosts during the year, said Nelson.
"We have forums and roundtable discussions about what do the farmers need, and what the associations could be working on to make their farming operation more profitable and more sustainable," Nelson said.
Since Nelson started the association in 2004, she said she's seen a gradual increase in participation. But as of recent years, membership has "leveled off."
"There's a lot of forage producers in our key states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas, and so we should have thousands of members, and we're always looking to increase that," said Nelson. "The dues rate is only $50, and with various coupons and different things, producers can actually make money on their membership."
Nelson said MFA needs producers' "critical mass," so that when it's working on their behalf on policy issues and research funding, they have a message to carry.
John Ruedinger, MFA board member and operator of Ruedinger Farms in Van Dyne, Wisconsin, agreed with Nelson's sentiment.
"We have around 600 members in MFA, and when you look at the size of our producers in states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, I think we're quite short, to be honest with you, on the number of members that we potentially could get if we really go out and work hard," Ruedinger said.
Nelson said the forage industry needs to have a larger presence in policy making and research appropriations, as well. Directly following the symposium, Nelson was traveling to Washington, D.C., to plug some initiatives by MFA and NAFA, along with working to acquire more research funding.
"Also gearing up for the next farm bill, which may be written by the end of this year, and how to better include alfalfa and forages in the farm bill," said Nelson of her D.C. trip. "(Alfalfa and forages) have really been overlooked in previous farm bills."
Acreage, sponsorship down
Nelson said the forage industry is a large one in the country, with alfalfa being the nation's fourth most valuable field crop.
"And when you consider all hay together, it's a solid third," she said of alfalfa numbers.
But alfalfa acreage decreased this year, Nelson said, which has led some companies to drop out of the alfalfa seed industry altogether.
"MFA is hurting a little bit right now, because there's some changes going on in the alfalfa industry," Nelson said during the annual MFA meeting on Feb. 21. "Corteva will be exiting the alfalfa business here in June, and Bayer Crop Science DEKALB just did that."
Those larger companies exiting the industry were also large sponsors of both the MFA and NAFA.
"We need to again talk about trying to get more sponsorship, because that's key to this organization," Ruedinger said. "And we have sponsors kind of come and go, and lower their financial offering to us, so those are just a fact of life as we move through in this business that we're in."
Nelson said MFA and NAFA will be looking at more ways to raise funding for the organizations.
"We've got a very challenging year ahead of us, and we all need to be thinking about who else, besides your seed companies, do you buy things from for your forage operations," Nelson said to the crowd on Feb. 21. "And are those companies sponsoring MFA and NAFA, and if they're not, let's talk about how we can maybe get them on board."