Alfalfa is the fifth glyphosate-tolerant crop commercialized in the U.S.; however, it has become perhaps the most scrutinized and debated of all genetically engineered crops grown.

Four growers and two seed company executives delineated the issues swirling around Roundup Ready alfalfa at the Western Alfalfa and Forage Conference in Las Vegas that drew 700 people.

They include:

  • Seed production isolation/possible cross pollination of Roundup Ready alfalfa with conventional varieties.
  • Availability of conventional varieties in the future.
  • The capability to guarantee GE-free alfalfa for organic dairies.
  • The impact of RR alfalfa on export markets opposed to GE crops.

Although many concerns were expressed, the general consensus of the panel was that the issues can be resolved, but will require considerable cooperation, adherence to rules to avoid contamination in critical market segments and neighborly awareness to achieve coexistence.

However, coexistence is a non-issue for Fairfield, Idaho hay grower Bill Simon, who successfully grows and markets organic, conventional and Roundup Ready alfalfa from his 4,500 acres of hay production.

Simon has been a certified organic hay producer since 1986. He farms non-organic, conventional alfalfa. He also farms two fields of RR alfalfa under center pivots, the oldest planted in 2006. Just as significant is the fact Simon tells all his customers he grows all three hay crops on his farm, and they trust him to deliver what they order.

“I believe that a reasonable coexistence program would allow an alfalfa grower to choose to plant any variety as long as he does not create an unacceptable economical problem on his neighbors’ existing operations,” Simon says.

As a certified organic producer, Simon is monitored and inspected often by the certifying organization. He has to document everything he does from soil prep to the point when trucks hauling the organic hay pull out of his farm gate carrying organic certification.

He even takes pictures of special trailer-mounted machinery used to clean equipment moving into organic hay fields from non-organic fields. This is mandatory for balers and other equipment harvesting organic alfalfa.

“A delegation of exporters from South Korea examined our records, procedures and our farm. They certified our operation as eligible to ship organic alfalfa to their country. This year we shipped organic alfalfa hay to both Japan and South Korea,” Simon said.

“Our experiences indicate that proper grower practices monitored by certifying agencies and informed customers allow organic and RR alfalfa to coexist,” he said, adding he does not envision contamination to be an issue in producing forage.