Ag Talk 3-22-10 | TheFencePost.com

Ag Talk 3-22-10

Western Sugar Cooperative officials and Colorado sugar beet growers are happy with a decision by a judge in San Francisco who ruled that the use of genetically engineered sugar beet seeds can be used until an environmental review of the seeds is completed.

A coalition of organic growers and environmental groups filed suit to ban the use of the seeds.

Monstanto Company’s Roundup Ready seeds were used extensively by Colorado and other Western growers a year ago. As a result, growers were able to save on labor costs of growing the beets – in the past they had to be weeded by hand – and Western officials credited the use of the seed in part for reducing loss of the crop during the growing season.

As a result, Colorado farmers harvested one of their best crops in history.

Kent Wimmer, spokesman for Western, said at the time of harvest last year that the advent of Roundup Ready seed and a seed treatment against insects “revolutionized the industry.” Farmers can spray Roundup Ready on beets and not kill the plants.

Usually, Wimmer said last fall, the company budgets for a 6-10 percent loss of each year’s crop due to weather and disease problems, but in 2009 that loss was less than 1 percent. About 35,000 acres of sugar beets were harvested in Colorado last year, with 12,500 of those in Weld County.

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Frank Eckhardt of La Salle, Colo., will plant about 450 acres of sugar beets this year and said he has his Roundup Ready seed “already in the barn.” While the ruling allows him to plant those seeds again this year, he worries about next year in the event use of the seed is banned.

“There’s not any conventional seed left. They quit producing that last year, so this year isn’t the problem, it’s next,” Eckhardt said. He said planting will begin in a couple of weeks. But he added that a fallout from last year’s big crop – Greeley area growers averaged 30 tons to the acre – was that Western cut back the acreage by 10-15 percent in its growing areas of Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana for this year.

Western’s Wimmer referred any comment concerning this week’s ruling to the Sugar Industry Biotech Council.

In a prepared statement, the council said: “We are pleased that the court denied the request and recognized the significant negative impact that an immediate ban on planting would have caused to growers, processors, rural communities and the U.S. sugar supply. This decision allows sugar beet growers to proceed with planting this year’s crop.”

Wimmer confirmed, however, that acreage adjustments have been made this year in order to maximize processing capabilities.

“The good news is we’re producing a whole lot more beets per acre than at any time in the past, so we have to adjust acreage to the slicing (processing) capabilities of each area,” Wimmer said, noting that Western, as are all U.S. sugar processors, are also allocated to sell only the amount of sugar the USDA allows each year.