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Mikkel Pates, Forum Communications Co., Published November 23 2010

Restrictions will be tight for Roundup Ready

If sugar beet companies are allowed to grow Roundup Ready beets in 2011, it appears the restrictions and grower oversight will be tight. One beet co-op leader says farmers may need to be using binoculars to make sure they don’t accidentally produce any seed.

David Berg, president of American Crystal Sugar Co. in Moorhead, said the eight U.S. sugar beet-growing cooperatives met with Department of Agriculture officials last week to talk about likely requirements should Roundup Ready beets be allowed under interim conditional permits for the coming crop.

A federal court has said the USDA improperly allowed growing Roundup Ready beet seed in previous years and ordered the agency to produce an Environmental Impact Statement about the impact of that decision.

Meantime, USDA’s Agricultural Plant Health Inspection Service has proposed allowing temporary, controlled commercial planting in 2011 under a temporary plan. APHIS is collecting comments on that plan and will make a decision after Dec. 6, so the issue may be unresolved until spring.

APHIS may require that companies like Crystal and Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., make it a contractual requirement with their growers that they heavily monitor fields of Roundup Ready beets so no seed is accidentally produced.

Sugar beet seed typically is produced in the second year of a plant’s life and is not grown in the Red River Valley. However, there are times when a single plant has a genetic anomaly that allows it to “bolt” and produce a seed.

“You’re going to have to pay attention to see if it’s there,” Berg said. “It’s a very rigid requirement. You must monitor the fields to make sure.”

He says that if Roundup Ready commercial crops can be grown under a one-year exemption, until USDA completes a required environmental impact statement, the companies and farmers will bear a cost.

David Roche, president and chief executive at Minn-Dak Farmers Co-op, said a contingency draft plan would require that APHIS be notified within 48 hours of a farmer spotting a bolted plant and that the producers would monitor fields every “three or four weeks” for bolting.

He said the initial draft says the monitoring should start in April, but processors “politely told them bolters aren’t going to appear until the plant appears.”

“It’s going to take an incredible amount of recordkeeping at the processing at the processor level” if the Roundup Ready seed is allowed in 2011, Berg said. The process also has to be audited by a third party if it’s ultimately approved by a court.

Mikkel Pates is a writer for Agweek