Roundup Ready Alfalfa, Understanding Practices
Arguments against Roundup Ready alfalfa are flying around the internet like “flies on stink.” Ironically, that is pretty much what the arguments against GMO alfalfa are…”stink.”
We have been growing alfalfa for more than 30 years on our ranch, for personal use and for sale, averaging roughly 6.5 tons per acre on 130 acres. I am very familiar with the attributes of alfalfa, its growing patterns, nutritive needs, life span and harvesting.
For some of those throwing out arguments against GMO alfalfa, it is very apparent that they have no understanding of the production of the forage. Here are two major points about alfalfa that need to be understood.
First, alfalfa is harvested multiple times each year, called a “cutting.” Depending on the region it is grown, a farmer can get anywhere from two cuttings in the far north, to twelve cuttings in areas of southern California and Arizona. Alfalfa is cut at the point when its total digestible nutrient (TDN) is at its highest, which occurs at a point when the plant is just starting to “bud,” or develop its flower. If alfalfa is cut when it has reached full maturity, it has poor feed value, is extremely course, does not retain leaf and is good for little more than bedding.
Second, depending on the region, an alfalfa stand remains productive, yielding at least six tons per acre, per year, for six to eight years and is then rotated out or inter-seeded with grass to maintain forage yield, orchard grass is common in our area. It is not inter-seeded with alfalfa, because by the second year, alfalfa plants release a natural inhibitor in the soil that prevents new alfalfa plants from establishing. It is for this reason that either grass is inter-seeded or the stand is plowed under and rotated to another crop for at least a year.
The argument offered that gene transfer will occur between GMO and non-GMO alfalfa is highly unlikely. Gene flow in alfalfa predominately occurs from insects carrying pollen from bloom to bloom. Except for alfalfa that is grown for seed, the plant is cut well before bloom even occurs.
In the unlikely event that pollen is transferred, it is even more unlikely that a “new” hybrid seed would germinate due to the natural inhibitor released by established stands.
I feel it is important for producers to have the choice of what variety of alfalfa to plant. Round-up-Ready Alfalfa is a variety that should be available and even presents the opportunity to more effectively control weeds and reduce the use of potentially environmentally damaging herbicides.
In my humble opinion, once the production of alfalfa is better understood by those not familiar with forage production, they too will agree that additional government regulations on alfalfa growers are unnecessary.
If FEIS option 3 is adopted, western growers, especially those in California, Idaho, Washington and Utah, would essentially be unable to even have a choice. The USDA needs to completely deregulate Roundup Ready Alfalfa.
ADDED at 9:00 pm PST
I just became aware of an additional post, by Anastasia Bodnar, that does an excellent job of discussing many of the concerns being mentioned in the comments pertaining to seed and growing alfalfa for seed. Please give it a visit: http://www.biofortified.org/2011/01/what-the-heck-is-alfalfa-anyway/
JUNE 2011 UPDATE
Following several requests for my thoughts on Don Huber’s allegations, both in his letter and a video that was sent to me, I have tried to succinctly put together some responses to some of his claims.
- In respect to the photos Huber used, what I see is a classic case of over spray in the headlands while making turns in the spray rig. Less commonly seen, with the utilization of GPS, but still occurs with some operators.
- In respect to the assertion of the aborting cattle, the cows had eaten spoiled wheat forage and as far as I know, there are not any varieties of GMO wheat being grown.
- Huber did not include any supporting data, did not cite any supporting data and did not identify anyone that he collaborated with to arrive at his conclusion of there being a “new pathogen.” The coordinator of the National Plant Disease Recovery System (NPDRS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated that they were not familiar with any information or research regarding the alleged pathogen and had not been contacted by Huber.
- A report issued in April, 2010, that is posted online at http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12804&page=R1, by the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, clearly refutes the assertion by Huber, that a “new pathogen” is causing serious damage to corn and soybean production in the United States.
- A question and answer document was recently prepared on how glyphosphate interacts with micronutrients, yields and materials in the spray solution in a Crop Protection Update: The Science of Roundup Ready® Technology, Glyphosate and Micronutrients.
- The Ohio State University Agronomics Crops Team put together an extensive list of citations in their March 11 – March 18, 2011 C.O.R.N. Newsletter: http://corn.osu.edu/newsletters/2011/2011-05/.
- Iowa State University Extension provided an informative discussion on “Use Facts to make Glyphosate and Glyphosate Resistant Crop Decisions here: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/CropNews/2011/0225hartzler.htm.
- Purdue University Weed Science program has also prepared a very informative document on “Glyphosate’s Impact on Field Crop Production and Disease Development at http://www.btny.purdue.edu/weedscience/2011/GlyphosatesImpact11.pdf.
- In February, 2011, a friend of mine, broadcaster Trent Loos discussed Huber’s claims on his show. On this link his comments begin around the 2:00 mark: http://www.monsantoblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/loos3.mp3.
- Finally, my friend Anastasia Bodnar, has an excellent post on her blog addressing Huber’s claims at http://www.biofortified.org/2011/02/extraordinary-claims/.