The first public comment period on the request for deregulation of reduced-lignin alfalfa will end this coming Friday, June 21.

The deregulation petition, posted by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on the Federal Register website, has so far garnered only 35 comments. Four comments – by alfalfa seed and hay producers – request that growers have the right to use the transgenic crop. The other comments rather vehemently oppose genetically modified organisms generally or reduced-lignin alfalfa specifically.

Alfalfa plants need lignin to hold them upright, but lignin does lower their digestibility. Alfalfas bred with a similar experimental trait that reduced lignin amounts had up to 10% greater fiber digestibility when fed to cows and lambs, according to U.S Dairy Forage Research Center research.

Essentially, reduced-lignin alfalfa would offer growers flexibility, says Matt Fanta, president of Forage Genetics International, the breeding company that developed the technology and filed the petition with Monsanto.

“There are two ways growers can perceive utilizing the technology. One is they can harvest their alfalfa the way they traditionally have and get higher-quality forage (higher digestibility). Or they could actually be able to delay harvest a couple of days and get the same-quality forage and have the opportunity to obtain higher tonnage,” Fanta says.

Being able to lengthen alfalfa’s harvest window and maintain quality is a big deal, according to one grower who commented in favor of the transgenic crop’s approval.

“My family operates a dairy farm in northeastern Wisconsin, and alfalfa represents a large portion of our feed costs. With 500-600 acres of alfalfa, harvesting dairy-quality feed in our area is extremely challenging with our weather. We try to maximize our quality with quantity, but often have only a two- or three-day window (in which to harvest the crop). If it is poor weather, we get poor-quality feed.

“If we could stretch out our harvest window without hurting our quality, it would be a huge advantage to our business,” the dairy producer wrote.

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USDA’s Animal And Plant Health Inspection Service provided the review period that ends June 21. After the petition and comments are analyzed and an environmental assessment is made, a second comment period will be open to the public.

If deregulated, the crop could be available to growers by 2016, Fanta estimated. A tech fee would likely be instituted.

To view the petition and/or comment, visit here.

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