Beet planting season begins
Roundup Ready sessions required to receive seed
By TIM HEARDEN
Farmers in Idaho and Eastern Oregon have begun receiving USDA-mandated training required to grow Roundup Ready sugar beets.
Growers, cooperatives and seed companies are racing to meet strict regulations governing the transportation, handling and growing of the crop put in place since the biotech beets were re-regulated as a result of ongoing litigation filed by environmentalists.
A large gathering of growers attended a training session on March 22 in Idaho's Magic Valley, and the Snake River Sugar Cooperative is offering the sessions online, said Duane Grant, the co-op's board chairman.
Growers who receive the instructions and get their compliance agreements signed may receive seed and begin planting, Grant said.
Companies have delivered Roundup Ready seed to distribution points throughout the co-op area, and some growers were set to begin planting this week, he said.
"Calendar-wise, we're well within the planting window today, especially in the western part of the company's growing area, so it's time to plant," said Grant, a farmer in Rupert, Idaho.
Rain has delayed farmers' ability to plant until now, and growers and seed companies have also been wading through an extensive list of USDA requirements for handling and planting the biotech seeds and growing the root crop.
Interim regulations put in place by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on growers and seed companies include geographic restrictions on planting, surveillance and monitoring requirements, equipment-handling procedures, personnel training, reporting, and movement and handling standards. The regulations came after a federal judge ordered the department to conduct a more detailed environmental study of the crop.
The USDA issued permits in February allowing seed companies to produce and ship Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds. The permits were issued just days before a federal appeals court struck down a lower court's order the Roundup Ready sugar beet stecklings -- the seedlings that will produce seed for next year's crop -- be destroyed.
While it's still an open question as to what will happen with the ongoing litigation, Grant said growers are confident they're operating within the environmental assessment set out by the federal government.
Conventional seed is available for Idaho growers, and the Snake River co-op would allow its members to use it if they preferred, Grant said.
But neither Grant nor Jeff Henry, a Jerome, Idaho, grower and president of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association, are aware of any growers who wish to use conventional seed.
Conventional beet farming is more labor intensive, as growers have to plow the ground before they plant seedlings and manage weeds throughout the season.
Growers would have limited opportunity to replace the Roundup Ready crop with conventional seeds in response to a court order, Grant said.
In the Treasure Valley in eastern Oregon and western Idaho, growers could plant as late as April 20 and still have a crop, he said. In higher elevations, planting would need to be done by about April 25, he said.
But Grant stressed that the later plantings would result in a loss of yield, and that reduction is magnifies with each day that goes by.
"The best crop and the highest yielding crop is going to go into the ground starting this week," he said. "Statistically, for every week past the first available week to plant, you can expect lower yields."