A published request for USDA partial deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa circulating via the Internet the past few days isn't a big deal. So says its author, Mark McCaslin, who is president of Forage Genetics International, the company licensed by Monsanto to develop the transgenic crop.

"We started developing the request immediately after the Supreme Court decision,” says McCaslin of the letter he wrote to USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), asking it to consider partial deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa. Written Aug. 6, the request reflects the Supreme Court's June 21 decision to overturn the 2007 injunction that prevented any interim action by USDA on deregulation of the transgenic crop.

The letter, along with an environmental report offering partial deregulation details, was sent before recent USDA-APHIS statements that a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would be completed by the end of this year, McCaslin adds.

"Since that time, USDA has been pretty forthright in forecasting a timeline for the final EIS," he says. "The best case for us, growers and the industry is a final EIS. A partial gets you part of the way there, and we see that as an interim measure, if necessary. But USDA is now saying publicly that it expects an EIS completed by the end of this calendar year and a deregulation decision soon after. Should that be favorable for deregulation, it would be in time for a spring plant. That's our hope now."

The purpose of the partial deregulation request was to ensure that the company was fully prepared for any of the various options that might allow planting next spring, he says. "This (partial deregulation) is always an option. But we're cautiously optimistic, based on what we're hearing from USDA and other parts of the government, of getting a final EIS published by the end of the year. If there was something unexpected that may happen, and this looked like would be the best option, it's something we can pursue. But that's not what we're thinking right now."

Before the EIS is finalized and a decision is made whether to deregulate, a 30-day “public inspection” period is required, according to USDA.

McCaslin's letter mentioned a random-sampling survey from some of the 5,500 growers who planted about 250,000 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa while it was in deregulated status - from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2007. In that survey, farmers reported a yield advantage of 0.9 ton/acre/year from the transgenic crop over conventional alfalfa.

"Based on average current hay prices, that translates into a $110/acre/year farm-gate advantage," McCaslin wrote. Using expected potential sales for spring 2011, typical planting rates and an average four-year rotation, the aggregated incremental value of Roundup Ready alfalfa to growers, associated with spring 2011 planting alone, is about $160 million, he added.

"A missed opportunity to plant RRA in spring 2011 is lost income for alfalfa growers, particularly important during the recent period of lower hay prices and a difficult dairy economy," the letter continued. To read the letter in its entirety, and the accompanying environmental report, click here. View the notice published in last week’s Federal Register.