What is in this article?:
- 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.
Major alfalfa issues swirl around:
- 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.
“As long as we have customers that demand zero tolerance of GE contamination, we as an industry must ensure we can produce their demands, because if we can’t someone else will,” he said.
“A coexistence strategy for alfalfa hay and seed growers and the industry as a whole may be the single most important issue we are facing right now.”
Zero contamination of alfalfa hay and seed “must be possible or we are going down a very scary road.” The Imperial Valley economy “would take a major hit as we currently ship approximately 30 to 40 percent of our hay and an even greater percentage of our alfalfa seed to GE sensitive markets.”
Pasco, Wash., hay grower Chep Gaunt is not sure zero tolerance is possible.
“I don't know if it is possible to have zero GE alfalfa,” he said. Specific seed production zones are critical to reduce contamination. However, he believes GE sensitive hay should be subject to a threshold number, like 3 percent.
“This number should be a USDA standard for the United States. With an exact published standard, all producers would be cognizant of what they can expect and what their customers can expect.”
Gaunt does not grow RR alfalfa, but does produce GE sweet corn. He is a major hay exporter and his customers demand GE-free hay in their contract.
Washington state exports 25 percent to 30 percent of its hay production and losing that market to GE contamination would be devastating to farmers in the state, he said.
“An effort must be made beginning with seed companies (genetic suppliers), seed salesmen and individual farms to be completely open and honest about crops and cropping plans. If an individual has a question about a neighbors’ cropping plan, then open communication should exist,” he said.