Roundup Ready alfalfa a go for 2012 planting
“We’re really happy this wasn’t where the Secretary of Agriculture decided to make a major shift in how the USDA regulates biotechnology,” says Wyoming Ag Business Association Executive Director Keith Kennedy on the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa without conditions on Jan. 27.
“We’re very pleased with the outcome. From our standpoint, we were worried about the possibility of them trying to back door regulate genetically modified products through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),” adds Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton.
“The biggest concern we had with the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was a third option on the second preferred alternative list, that had not been in the draft EIS, which was a partial deregulation. The issue for Wyoming and other western states was that it spelled out that no one could plant that product in any county that had grown alfalfa seed as reported in the 2007 Census of Agriculture. There were seven counties in Wyoming where it would have been prohibited, and that boiled down to between 45 and 50 percent of total acres, and between 50 and 55 percent of the tonnage produced that year that would have been prohibited,” explains Kennedy.
“The initial approach on Roundup Ready alfalfa seemed pretty cookie cutter, and not very defensible. But, we do like the way the Secretary has instituted different things, and we need to look at them over time. We’re happy with the decision as it was announced. We felt the initial Environmental Assessment performed for glyphosate-resistant alfalfa was sufficient, with the FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact), but we now know that any future full deregulations will require a full Environmental Impact Statement, so that the biotech industry can proceed with some certainty as to process,” adds Kennedy.
“The industry has been dealing with this for quite a while. Some people want to attach more to Roundup, or genetically modified, alfalfa than to other varieties, when in fact the way you deal with them is exactly the same,” notes Hamilton.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s very much middle ground. I think it’s a small minority of alfalfa producers that are strongly opposed to this technology. I think what we’re mainly seeing are some of the same activist groups that have, and are still, suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and who are proponents of the BLM’s Wild Lands initiative behind the opposition,” adds Kennedy.
“If the Secretary had supported a partial deregulation, it would have turned everything on its side on all past deregulations as well as trade negotiations where the U.S. has always maintained we have a science based system. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) did find in the final EIS that glyphosate-safe alfalfa wasn’t a pest. Really, their only choices are to find it isn’t a plant pest and deregulate it, or to not release it because it was found to be a plant pest,” notes Kennedy.
“I hope we’ll see a lot of those initial acres come back to Roundup Ready alfalfa again this year. It’s a really valuable aid, especially in the summer with the annual weed problems alfalfa growers run into.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if roughly half the alfalfa acres planted this year are Roundup Ready acres. I know the company Forage Genetics has quite a bit of seed on hand that they’ve maintained in a locked-down warehouse throughout this process, and there is some backlog, but also some pent up demand, ” explains Kennedy.
“There was also Roundup Ready seed production in the state prior to that first release, and I think we’ll see that again, too. We’re also hopeful that this is a good sign for what will happen with Roundup Ready sugar beets, on which we’re expecting a decision in the next week or two,” notes Kennedy.
“It’s a pretty important decision for the continued survivability of the sugar beet industry in Wyoming and across the west. Before Roundup Ready sugar beets came along, the economics weren’t looking real great,” he adds.
“The difference between Roundup Ready sugar beets and alfalfa is vast. Most beets don’t produce seed, especially in Wyoming. They’re harvested before they can bolt and produce seeds. If we don’t have Roundup Ready sugar beets, I think we’ll see a drastic curtailment in sugar beet production in this state, and it’s not healthy as it is,” adds Hamilton.
“We want to thank the Wyoming Congressional delegation, as well as the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, for the letters they sent to the Secretary of Agriculture as well as the White House. That was a big help, and we appreciate their efforts as well as the efforts of their counterparts,” says Kennedy.
“Hopefully, at some point, the judicial branch will wake up and realize nothing is really that much different in genetically modified products than is already seen in the different varieties established through the years. It’s just a faster process,” says Hamilton.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.