Alfalfa industry experts say demand for Monsanto’s Genuity Roundup Ready alfalfa seed has been strong this year as growers welcome back a technology that had been off the market for nearly four years. Following a round of court battles and the conclusion of an environmental impact statement, Monsanto reintroduced Genuity Roundup Ready alfalfa to the market in 2011.

The first Roundup Ready alfalfa varieties received USDA approval and were introduced to U.S. alfalfa growers in 2005. In early 2006, the Center for Food Safety filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California claiming that the USDA had not completed an Environmental Impact Statement for Roundup Ready alfalfa.

The district court subsequently ruled that the sale and planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed needed to be stopped until the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) could complete the Environmental Impact Statement to determine if the new technology posed a threat to the environment.

Where was it in the meantime?

Farmers who had already planted Roundup Ready alfalfa prior to the 2007 injunction were allowed to continue to grow and harvest their existing stands as long as they followed strict guidelines. The Roundup Ready hay had to be clearly labeled as such before it could be moved or sold by commercial hay producers. 

Seed companies placed unplanted Roundup Ready alfalfa seed into secure storage while the product was off the market. New seed that was produced also went into storage. APHIS completed the Environmental Impact Statement in December 2010, and Roundup Ready alfalfa was deregulated without conditions in January 2011. The USDA then allowed sales and planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa to resume as of February 2011.

Plenty of seed available

Now that Roundup Ready alfalfa has been deregulated without conditions, Monsanto expects to have enough seed to meet the growing demand, according to Steve Welker, product manager for Genuity Roundup Ready alfalfa. He says that even though U.S. alfalfa acres are somewhat reduced because of the wet spring weather and acres being devoted to corn and other crops this year, demand for Roundup Ready alfalfa has been strong.

“There is plenty of product available in all dormancy ratings throughout the country,” Welker says. Roundup Ready technology is available in a range of dormancies.

East of the Rocky Mountains, producers will pay a one-time technology fee of $125/50-lb. bag when they purchase Roundup Ready alfalfa seed.  The technology fee is $150/bag west of the Rocky Mountains. The technology fee is assessed in addition to the cost of the seed. It is paid at the time of planting and covers the acres seeded for the life of the stand. A 50-lb. bag of seed typically covers approximately three acres. Average stand life is expected to be four to five years, according to Welker.

Monsanto and Forage Genetics International developed Roundup Ready alfalfa; Monsanto in turn licenses the technology to other seed companies. Each company has worked to develop alfalfa varieties containing the Roundup Ready trait. Matt Fanta, vice president of sales and marketing for Forage Genetics International, says he has been getting a lot of questions about Roundup Ready alfalfa from growers who are considering applying the technology on their farms.

“Every grower looks at their operation differently,” Fanta explains. “The people who may be most likely to benefit from Roundup Ready alfalfa are those who are looking for better weed control and a purer stand of alfalfa.” Hay producers who sell to a market that prioritizes weed-free hay may find the product particularly beneficial. Roundup Ready alfalfa also can be a good choice for fields where alfalfa stand establishment can be difficult due to heavy weed pressure.

“People who planted Roundup Ready alfalfa when it was introduced in 2005 report seeing an increased yield of about 1 ton/acre, which means more than a $110/acre advantage in the Roundup Ready stands compared to conventional alfalfa stands,” Fanta says.

According to Monsanto, prior to the 2007 planting injunction, approximately 5,485 growers in 48 states planted more than 263,000 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa. 

Fanta says there is strong demand for seed for next year. Roundup Ready alfalfa seed is only legally available from authorized seed companies for use in the U.S. 

When growers purchase Roundup Ready seed, they need to agree to read and follow a Technology Use Guide, which outlines the requirements for using the seed. Seed suppliers are required by the USDA to identify and list all Roundup Ready alfalfa field locations, which means all growers must provide their seed supplier with the GPS coordinates of all of their Roundup Ready alfalfa fields. 

Growers must follow USDA guidelines when selling hay and may only export Roundup Ready hay to countries where regulatory approval has been granted.

A list of Roundup Ready alfalfa varieties, compiled by the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance (NAFA), is available at www.alfalfa.org. For more information, visit www.monsanto.com.