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2011 Western Alfalfa and Forage Symposium

Published on 01 January 2012

0112fg_forage_folks_1At the recent Western Alfalfa and Forage Symposium, one session included presentations and a panel discussion about GMOs and Roundup Ready® alfalfa.

Read excerpts below from the proceedings from each participant. Then go online to read each complete article, available on the University of California Alfalfa & Forages website.

forage panel

Panel participants included (left to right above) Steve Orloff, Paul Frey, Mark McCaslin, Scott Emanuelli, Bill Simon, Phil Bowles, and Chet Gauntt; not pictured Charles Benbrook and Dan Putnam.

Steve Orloff
Farm Adviser
University of California

Steve’s presentation answered the question “Roundup Ready® alfalfa – What have we learned to date?” by discussing some of the results of a recent grower survey.

A large majority of the growers that responded to the survey (91 percent) were either satisfied, very pleased or the technology far exceeded expectations. A majority (72 percent) said that they would plant it again, 21 percent said maybe and 7 percent said no.

Better weed control, simplicity and flexibility of weed management were the key advantages cited by respondents, with control of problematic weeds a key point for many. Cost of seed was cited by 77 percent of all respondents as the major negative.

Paul Frey
Cal/West Seeds

Coexistence is possible, provided that mechanisms are developed and implemented that make it feasible for parties involved to conduct their activities in a reasonable manner.

If more resources were allocated to education, coexistence would be easier to achieve.

The industry has to provide leadership in developing standards and methods to achieve them. Some form of regulation is needed to verify results and ensure compliance.

Biotechnology is a very valuable tool that can open up possibilities traditional plant breeding to date has not been able to accomplish.

At the same time, growers and consumers should have the freedom to choose what technologies they want to utilize and have the assurance that it is safe.

Mark McCaslin
Forage Genetics Int’l

There is currently complete grower choice in forage production. There is sufficient seed availability for forage growers producing conventional, organic or GE forage production for either domestic or export markets.

The alfalfa seed industry appears committed to the continued availability of seed meeting applicable quality requirements for these various markets in the future.

As part of their package of coexistence initiatives, the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance (NAFA) has implemented a program where groups of alfalfa seed growers, who together offer a minimum number of acres with specific isolation requirements, can self-select as a seed production area for either GE or AP-sensitive alfalfa seed production.

Scott Emanuelli
Forage Producer & Exporter
El Centro, California

As it stands today, co-existence is not possible in the Imperial Valley. During certain cycles, 50 percent of our valley could be planted to alfalfa hay.

Approximately 50 percent of it is custom harvested and machines travel back and forth between fields without clean-downs and possibly without knowledge of whether the stand would be GE or conventional.

However on a larger scale, Imperial Valley serves as an example of how co-existence is possible. It is necessary to implement and maintain GE-free growing regions to ensure proper coexistence of GE and non-GE alfalfa crops.

In addition, industry standards will need to be set and strictly followed. With proper stewardship we can maintain “true and pure” organic and conventional hay and seed.

Charles Benbrook*
Chief Scientist
The Organic Center

*Editor’s note: Mr. Benbrook was not in attendance at the show, but he did offer his thoughts in a proceedings article.

Once a GE crop is approved and planted commercially, growers of the new GE crop and farmers not planting the new GE crop obviously coexist as long as they stay in business.

The issues before us depend on how different parties characterize the essential ingredients to “meaningful” coexistence.

A commitment to maintaining a substantial supply and diversity of non-GE alfalfa breeding lines is important. Also important is a transparent, multi-stakeholder-driven process and method of monitoring the level of AP in non-GE alfalfa breeding lines and seed.

Without question, some sacrifices in operating freedom will be necessary. There is near-unanimous agreement that significant and systematic best management practices will be essential.

Bill Simon
Forage Producer
Fairfield, Idaho

At the present time we find coexistence of organic, export and RR alfalfa hay production to be possible on our farm. It depends on careful cleaning methods when moving equipment from RR fields to other commercial or organic fields.

It means satisfactory buffers exist between RR, commercial and organic fields.

However, neighborly coexistence may not be possible in all alfalfa growing areas and in all growers’ situations. In any case, proper grower practices are required and in many situations the conditions in the growing area need to be monitored and some practices will need to be adjusted accordingly.It is entirely possible that some growers’ choices will become unavailable.

Phil Bowles
Forage Producer
Los Banos, California

Coexistence between conventional and organic growers ought to be possible, but it will take both sides to make it work.

At the moment, there is a substantial portion of the alfalfa industry that is not farming organically, but which depends on being able to furnish non-GM forage to their customers. As long as this is the case, their interests must be protected.

Producers have gotten along fine without GM alfalfa; so if push comes to shove, the legitimate commercial interests of the non-GM folks have to come ahead of those of us who plant the Roundup Ready varieties.

In most locations it is not an either-or choice, but more a matter of figuring out, on a regional level, how to play nicely with one another.

Chet Gauntt
Forage Producer & Exporter
Pasco, Washington

Each farmer chooses the crops, varieties, timing, method of harvest and markets. There cannot be any infringing on a different choice or method. Coexistence is only possible if mutual respect is given and all parties make an effort.

Obviously for coexistence neighboring farms and even custom operators will need to be aware and sensitive to the different choices. The decision to adjust methods or variety choices will still be individual.

The United States still has a large demand for GE-sensitive markets. Many growers produce only for domestic consumption and for those producers GE alfalfa could increase options in planting schedules and in residual chemical from other types of cropping plans.

Dan Putnam
Extension Specialist
University of California

While the survey revealed divergence in opinion, it also offered some indication of the possibility of coexistence.
Editor’s note: Watch for additional discussion in an upcoming issue of Progressive Forage Grower.

Rod Christensen
Ag Management, Inc.
Kennewick, Washington

As the Executive Secretary for the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance, Rod’s presentation answered the question: “What are the key methods to implement coexistence between GE and non-GE alfalfa?”

The alfalfa seed and forage alfalfa industries have developed strategies and tools specific to our industry that complement existing programs and procedures, which include:

1. Cooperation/communication

2. Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA)

3. Alfalfa Seed Stewardship Program (ASSP)

4. California Crop Improvement Association (CCIA) Alfalfa Pinning Map

5. Monsanto Technology Use Guide (TUG)

6. The National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance (NAFA)