A dearth of public dollars to support alfalfa research was the emphasis behind the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA) instituting a new alfalfa checkoff program. The checkoff will be assessed at the rate of $1 per bag of alfalfa seed sold, and participation will be voluntary by seed brand marketers.

Alfalfa falls far behind other major crops in public dollars allocated for research. Whereas crops like corn and wheat garner nearly $50 million each year, alfalfa falls to something less than $5 million. Though there have been some recent successes in securing public research dollars such as the Alfalfa & Forage Research Program, more is needed if the country’s third most valuable crop is to see a bright future.

The NAFA board of directors met in Washington, D.C., in early February and unanimously voted to initiate the program. One of the producer members on the board told Hay & Forage Grower that he would have preferred an even higher checkoff assessment.

All of the dollars collected from the checkoff will be spent to support alfalfa public research. No fees will be charged by NAFA to administer the program. According to information provided by NAFA, checkoff dollars will be used in research areas such as yield improvement, water conservation, development of new storage and harvest systems, creation of new uses, and other efforts holding the potential to advance the alfalfa seed and forage industries.

A letter explaining the checkoff program was sent by NAFA to seed marketers in late March. It’s anticipated, at minimum, most major seed marketers will participate in the checkoff program. Marketers were asked to respond to NAFA by April 30, 2016, and the kickoff date is expected to begin with summer and fall alfalfa seed sales. The $1 per bag assessment includes any product that is greater than 80 percent alfalfa, including VNS (variety not stated) alfalfa seed sold.

Seed marketers will have the option to administer the program and assess the $1 per bag checkoff in whatever manner they wish. In some cases, that may mean a separate invoice line item, others may simply add $1 to the price of each bag. Marketers will only play the role of collecting the checkoff dollars, which will then be sent to NAFA in June and December of each year.

NAFA, an organization comprised of seed marketers, seed producers, and alfalfa growers, will take input from their affiliates and members to develop a list of research priorities. Once completed, these priorities will be circulated to all known public U.S. alfalfa researchers. A subcommittee made up of university researchers, industry representatives, and farmers will evaluate the proposals based on scientific merit, conceptual adequacy, innovation, institutional qualifications, and relevance to industry priorities.