Growers must take extra steps to meet requirements
By DAVE WILKINS
After months of uncertainty, Idaho sugar beet growers are doing exactly what they hoped they'd be doing this spring: Planting Roundup Ready beets.
Paul Rasgorshek of Nampa, Idaho, will plant his entire beet crop with the biotech seed, just as he has the past few years.
What's different is that he'll have to be much more careful about how he plants, grows and harvests the crop.
Before he started to plant in late March, Rasgorshek completed an online training session to help him meet new government requirements.
He'll have to take extra steps this year to ensure that seed doesn't spill out of his planters as he moves them from field to field. To comply, Rasgorshek plans to wrap garbage bags around his planters so any stray seed falls inside the bags and not on the ground.
He must also monitor his fields during the growing season for any "bolters," that could shed seed, remove them from the field and file a report.
During harvest this fall, he'll have to be extra careful to prevent beets from falling from his 10-wheeler trucks and will have to report any spills that occur. The new regs say that there must be at least six inches of "free board" along the sides so any beets that fall from the crown of the pile don't fall out of the truck.
Fields could be subject to government inspection anytime during the growing season.
The new regulations, while inconvenient, are a small price to pay for being able to grow superior varieties, growers said.
Rasgorshek's yields have increased about 1.5 to 2 tons per acre since he started using Roundup Ready seed.
"Our yields have increased, and we've seen a big decrease in the cost of labor," he said.
Until a few weeks ago, growers weren't sure whether they'd ever be allowed to grow Roundup Ready beets again. A lawsuit filed by environmental activists threatened to block access to the technology.
But in early February, the USDA announced a partial deregulation of the crop, allowing farmers to grow the root crop under some carefully tailored measures.
The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service determined that production of the root crop would not pose a plant pest risk or have a significant effect on the environment as long as growers adhered to special requirements meant to limit the risk of contamination.
Growers had the choice of attending a training session organized by the Snake River Sugar Co. co-op or registering for an online training session provided by the co-op. Either way, they must complete training before planting Roundup Ready beets this year.
Growers contacted by the Capital Press said they completed the online training in about an hour or less.
Rasgorshek, a member of the co-op's board of directors, said he's satisfied that the online training he received will allow him meet the new government requirements. He had more than half of his 317 acres of beets planted by April 2.
"I believe we're playing by the rules," he said.
The new regulations will probably add to the cost of production, "If my time is worth anything," Rasgorshek said.
Doug Carlquist, a grower from Eden, Idaho, took the online training, then followed up by attending a workshop organized by the co-op just to make sure he understood what was required.
Keeping detailed records, from planting through harvest, will be the main thing, he said.
"We just have to keep good records and do everything that the government is asking us to do," he said.
"It's going to take some time, but in my opinion at least, it's still a much better option than going back to conventional beets," Carlquist said.
Idaho farmers are expected to plant about 177,000 acres of sugar beets this year, an increase of 4 percent from last year. Nearly all of the crop is expected to be planted to Roundup Ready varieties.