Based On recent reports from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Roundup Ready alfalfa seed may be available to growers again by late 2009, according to Mark McCaslin, president of Forage Genetics International. As the waiting continues, alfalfa growers and seed producers are trying to figure out which steps make the most sense when planning for future production. “A lot of seed supply issues depend on the ‘if’ or ‘when’ we get rerelease of Roundup Ready alfalfa,” says Dennis Gehler, Croplan Genetics.
A May 3, 2007, permanent injunction prohibited any new planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed until the APHIS could prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) addressing concerns about how the genetically enhanced product may affect conventional alfalfa seed production. APHIS reports it plans to have a draft EIS completed by the end of 2008 or early 2009. The draft EIS will be followed by a public comment period. Public comments will be addressed before a final EIS is completed. APHIS reports that the final EIS is tentatively expected to be finished in late 2009. A determination on whether or not to deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa would happen shortly thereafter.
In the meantime, growers are continuing to harvest and sell Roundup Ready hay from fields that were planted prior to the injunction. Roundup Ready hay must be clearly labeled as such before it can be moved or sold. Strict guidelines are in place regarding cleaning and movement of the equipment used to harvest Roundup Ready alfalfa.
Joe Waldo, NK Brand Seed, says that, since the injunction, it has been somewhat challenging shifting back to non-Roundup Ready production in some areas. He notes that the regions most affected include the Pacific Northwest, California, High Plains, and areas that use varieties with later dormancies. “Those markets were moving rapidly to Roundup Ready alfalfa,” he explains. “Consequently, the seed suppliers who were producing those maturities were also shifting to Roundup Ready instead of producing more conventional alfalfa seed. This might not have been a big problem, but with the competition for acres for all crops it has been very difficult securing acres to put conventional alfalfa seed production back in the ground.”
The Roundup Ready alfalfa situation is causing seed companies some uncertainty too. “If Roundup Ready does not come back on the market, we need to produce to supply that need,” says Mike Velde, Dairyland Seed. “If it does come back on the market, how will that affect the production we have in place? We don't want to over-produce if we cannot sell the product. We don't want to under-produce in case that does not come back on the market.”
McCaslin says there has been a carefully controlled, continuing Roundup Ready seed harvest on seed production acres established before the 2007 ruling. “All Roundup Ready alfalfa seed has been put in secure storage for the time being,” he notes. “Industry best practices allow alfalfa seed storage for two to three years without significant deterioration in seed quality.”
The first Roundup Ready alfalfa varieties were introduced to U.S. alfalfa growers in 2005. Roundup Ready alfalfa was initially taken off the market after a March 12, 2007, preliminary injunction, which was followed by the May 3, 2007, permanent injunction. This action was taken in response to a lawsuit claiming USDA was in error when the agency deregulated Roundup Ready alfalfa without having completed an EIS.