Tipton, Calif., dairyman-farmer Tom Barcellos is among a virtual handful of U.S. producers who have reaped what he says are undeniable and surprising benefits of growing Roundup Ready alfalfa.
“It has meant the savings of at least $200 per acre, just in stand life alone, by not having to spend that much to replant after three or four years like I would with conventional alfalfa,” said Barcellos.
That does not factor in the value of the better quality he gains from less weedy summer hay and fewer insect problems.
“Since we are not using a lot of herbicides on the crop it is healthier, and we do not have near the insect problems with it,” he said.
Barcellos is among about 5,500 farmers who planted 220,000 acres of the herbicide glyphosate-resistant alfalfa before the courts banned the sale of RR alfalfa seed.
He has reaped the benefits of being an early adopter of this technology and looks forward to planting a lot more now that the Supreme Court has apparently cleared the way for RR alfalfa seed sales to resume.
Monsanto says RR alfalfa will be on the market this fall.
Barcellos has a pair of five-year-old 80-acre RR alfalfa fields. They are as healthy as conventional variety fields half that old.
“When we went into Roundup Ready alfalfa, we figured to get five years out of a stand before we had to take it out. I am thinking about leaving it in another year (sixth season).” This extra year means Barcellos is spared the expense of replacing one field of conventional alfalfa. “You are looking at the costs of field preparation, planting and all the other expenses of putting in a stand. That is $200 with my eyes closed right there that I do not have to spend each year to replace a field,” he said.
The RR alfalfa fields are still producing quality feed for his dairy.
Summer hay is typically fairly weedy, but not the herbicide resistant biotech crop. “It is clean enough for milk cow hay. We can mix it 50-50 with higher protein hay and still get good milk production,” he said. “That is a big savings in the dairy business these days.”
Barcellos has not seen any weed resistance, partly because he is using less Roundup on the healthy stand than he was early-on. He also rotates herbicides in the winter to ward off resistance.
“We simply use fewer chemicals overall — herbicides and insecticides. The stands are much happier because they are healthier,” he said.
This has resulted in fewer pest problems, a benefit Barcellos did not expect. “It has been a surprising bonus.
“We have no aphid issues. We have sprayed for alfalfa weevil maybe three times in five years. In conventional alfalfa, it is not unusual to spray once or twice a year,” he said.
When Barcellos initially put in his Roundup Ready alfalfa, his unfortunate neighbors – who were locked out by the courts – watched his fields closely and asked him plenty of questions.
“The talk died down after a couple of years as this thing has dragged out in the courts,” he said. He expects interest to pick up now.
“I am glad the Supreme Court has made some sense out of this,” added a relieved Barcellos.