Rain, regulations delay sugar beet planting
Questions remain about what training APHIS will require of growers
By DAVE WILKINS
Sugar beet growers say they've yet to receive training mandated by the USDA as a condition for planting Roundup Ready sugar beets, and dealers have not yet delivered their seed.
Idaho farmers normally would have started planting sugar beets by now if their fields weren't so wet. But this year growers and seed companies must also comply with an extensive list of mandatory USDA requirements for planting and handling the biotech seeds and growing the root crop.
As a result of ongoing litigation, the crop is once again under the regulation of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Those regulations 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.
Most growers seem to know they will be required to take some kind of training before planting Roundup Ready beets, but they don't know specifically what that training will cover, said Jeff Henry, a Jerome, Idaho, grower and president of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association.
"They don't know what all the training will entail," he said.
The co-op is in the process of finalizing a compliance agreement with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said co-op board chairman Duane Grant, a Rupert, Idaho, farmer.
"It could be provided by APHIS personnel, an APHIS-trained person or electronically on the Internet under an APHIS compliance training program," Grant said.
Henry said he's hopeful the co-op signs a compliance agreement with USDA and growers can complete their training within the next 10 days so they can begin planting.
Seed companies are working on separate compliance agreements with APHIS to allow them to deliver Roundup Ready seed to growers.
The only seed company Capital Press was able to contact, SESVanderhave, had no comment about when it might be able to get a compliance agreement in place with APHIS and begin shipping.
Grant said he's hopeful that the process of finalizing the compliance agreements doesn't result in planting delays. Wet weather has kept growers out of the field so far, he said.
"We anticipate that the compliance agreements will be ready and growers will have complied with them about the same time that our fields dry out enough to allow us to plant," Grant said.
Growers and processors know that the new growing season will not be business as usual.
"It's going to be an inspection and paperwork nightmare to take care of all of the things that need to be taken care of," said Vic Jaro, president and CEO of The Amalgamated Sugar Co.
Grower Rocky Hagan of Kimberly, Idaho, is hopeful that the seed companies, the grower co-ops and the growers themselves will be able to complete everything in fairly short order.
Growers still have plenty of time, Hagan said. Many farmers in south-central Idaho don't finish planting beets until late April or even early May, he said.
Farmers in Idaho and Eastern Oregon are typically among the first in the nation to start planting sugar beets -- usually about mid-March.
"We're cautiously optimistic," he said.