USDA/APHIS has issued a set of rules to regulate the harvesting and sale of more than 220,000 acres of Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa in the U.S., in compliance with the permanent injunction issued earlier this year by a California federal district court, which halted the sale of seed for the herbicide-resistant crop.

Growers call the rules ludicrous, totally unnecessary, and impossible to follow.

Seed companies, University of California specialists, and others are attempting to modify the rules that include labeling every single bale of RR alfalfa sold into a commercial hay market.

In California alone, that could mean individually tagging 12 to 20 million 150-pound hay bales harvested each season.

“What are we supposed to do if we cube or pellet Roundup Ready alfalfa? Tag every cube,” bemoaned a facetious Philip Bowles, Merced County, Calif., hay grower and president of the California Alfalfa and Forage Association.

“We have 200 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa in production on our farm. It is impossible to tag every bale that leaves the farm. Now we rubber stamp invoices indicating it is Roundup Ready alfalfa,” Bowles said.

University of California, Davis, alfalfa/forage Extension agronomist Dan Putnam belives growers cannot or will not comply with these tagging regulations.

Putnam and Bowles have written USDA asking that the government modify the regulations, which currently require:

  • Producers to clean all swathers, balers, pick-up wagons/harrow beds, and must leave the sweepings in the RR field.

  • Truckers to clean their equipment after transporting RR alfalfa.

  • RR hay and conventional hay be segregated when stacked.

  • Buyers must be notified they are purchasing RR hay‥

  • Individually tag RR alfalfa bales.

“It is questionable whether these measures accomplish the stated goal of preventing RR alfalfa from disrupting organic alfalfa production or non-GE markets,” said Putnam.

Bowles agreed: “I have no problem with making sure there are regulations to protect organic hay growers from contamination from Roundup Ready alfalfa. They are legitimate business people who have a right to conduct their business. However, sweeping out balers and trucks has nothing do to with cross pollination of alfalfa. These are just silly regulations that are about as practical as telling a grower to stand on his head for 20 minutes underwater to comply with these rules.

“It is obvious these regulations were written by someone who has never visited an alfalfa farm.”

The regulations were drawn up to comply with the judge's permanent injunction last spring, which halted the sale of RR alfalfa seed until the USDA does an environmental impact study (EIS).

After a lengthy state and federal regulatory process that eventually led to the sale of RR alfalfa last fall, the EIS was one hoop the judge said regulators did not jump through. The suit was filed by radical anti-GMO and organic groups. There has been no appeal filed by Monsanto, Roundup Ready licensee Forage Genetics, or USDA.

Putnam said the purpose of the ruling was to prevent unwanted, inadvertent contamination of organic or GE-sensitive crops.

“All of us in the industry agree that we want to abide by that, because it is important to protect the interest of organic hay growers in local as well as export markets,” said Putnam. “It is a legitimate aspect of the business, but tagging hay bales to accomplish that is entirely unrealistic.”

About 220,000 acres of RR alfalfa were planted before the judge halted the sale of seed last spring. Putnam estimates about 80,000 of that is in California.

“These USDA/APHIS hay handling and sales regulations have the greatest impact in California, where alfalfa is a commercial crop sold off the farm. 95 percent of California hay is traded in the market. In the Midwest, probably 95 percent of the hay produced on the farm stays on the farm to feed animals.”

The rules were issued in letters to growers the USDA has “reason to believe … possess, grow, sell, or distribute Roundup Ready alfalfa.” These are not proposed regulations, but definitive rules the government put in place.

The letter, however, did not say who was going to enforce the regulations. “The county ag commissioners want nothing to do with this,” said Putnam.

“We are hoping we can convince USDA/APHIS to examine reasonable alternatives to these unworkable regulations,” he said.

In the letter to USDA, Putnam proposed the judge's orders to identify RR alfalfa be met by disclosure notice from the seller to the buyer of RR alfalfa, and that lots, rather than individual bales, be identified by bills of lading or other paperwork, not individual bale tags.

Acknowledging that some sales will be by individual bales in places like retail feed stores, the letter from CAFA suggests RR alfalfa bales be identified by written notice or specially marked by a single strand of purple twine.