Forecaster says more will be planted in the fall than in the spring

By CECILIA PARSONS

For the Capital Press

TULARE, Calif. -- Regulatory agencies, the courts and environmental groups have all had their say about Roundup Ready alfalfa. Now the people who put the seed in the ground will be the measurement of demand for the biotech crop.

Joe Machado, at the America's Alfalfa display at World Ag Expo confirmed that growers are excited about planting, but the timing is wrong for the spring. The alfalfa variety that is genetically engineered to be glyphosate-resistant was released for planting with no restrictions on Jan. 27. Machado said fall planting is preferred in California and growers have already made planting decisions for the spring.

High corn, wheat and cotton prices are giving growers other planting options. There is also concern that milk prices may drop, leaving dairies, which consume 70 percent of the state's alfalfa crop, short on funds for hay purchases.

The release of Roundup Ready alfalfa is still a bright spot for growers who have been hit with high production costs and low prices. Growers who planted Roundup Ready alfalfa when it was first allowed are pleased, and their neighbors who wanted to plant it are pleased that they will have that opportunity, Machado said.

David Roberti, a third-generation hay grower from Loyalton, Calif., said he doesn't have a lot of other options given his location, and Roundup Ready alfalfa will make it easier for him to produced high-quality dairy hay. Grassy areas in some of his pivot-irrigated fields will be easier to eliminate.

Roberti, one of the winners in the expo's Forage Challenge, said he thinks planting RR alfalfa will be worth the higher seed costs, which will be offset by lower herbicide costs.

Hay market forecaster Seth Hoyt, a speaker at the expo's Hay and Forage seminars, said it does not appear spring planting of the crop will be big in the western states as planting decisions were made before the USDA announcement. More Roundup Ready alfalfa will be planted in the fall.

"I think growers want this, but I hope it doesn't get hung up in court," Hoyt said.

There are problems that must be resolved before research can advance, Dan Putnam, University of California forage specialist, said.

Planting Roundup Ready alfalfa will increase the chances for herbicide resistant weeds, Putnam said, so the hay industry will have to develop management strategies to prevent that.

For more information about RR alfalfa, go to the website http//alfalfa.ucdavis.edu.

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