Roundup Ready alfalfa planting seed could be back on the U.S. market by the end of January as expected and in time for spring planting.

However, USDA may attach more regulatory strings to it than there is baling twine on three-wire bales stacked 10-feet high on a set of doubles.

Many were expecting USDA to deregulate planting of RR alfalfa when it announced the final and long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement ordered by the courts. However, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack put a knot in that notion when he said USDA may place draconian restrictions on where RR alfalfa seed and forage can be grown.

Those recommended restrictions would have a major impact on California, Arizona and other major Western forage and seed producing states (Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming).

For example, if USDA decides to go with a deregulated — yet regulated — scenario, RR alfalfa forage could not be grown in counties where RR alfalfa seed is produced.

Another part of the “deregulation with geographic restrictions and isolation distances” requires 5 miles between GT alfalfa seed production fields and conventional alfalfa. This is incalculably more than is now required for certified seed production.

The California Crop Improvement Association requires only 900 feet of isolation for foundation seed production and just 165 feet for certified seed fields and another variety of alfalfa.

California produces 9 percent of the nation’s alfalfa, harvesting more than 7 million tons annually. Imperial, Kern, Tulare, Merced, and Fresno are the leading alfalfa producing counties in the state.

85 percent of the 80 million pounds of alfalfa seed produced in U.S. each year comes from California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Nevada.

A look at the most recent statistics for Fresno and Imperial counties show just how dramatic those regulations would be. Both are among the largest alfalfa seed producing counties in the state. Together they produce about 30,000 acres of alfalfa seed annually. Collectively they also produce alfalfa hay from almost 200,000 acres of alfalfa forage annually.

Under the USDA geographic restrictions scenario, RR alfalfa seed production would be banned from those counties, representing a significant loss of income for farmers since RR alfalfa is expected to be in great demand when it goes back on the market. When RR alfalfa goes back on the market, demand for non-biotech alfalfa is expected to drop and that could also cost farmers in Fresno and Imperial counties millions in lost revenue.