By Neil Tietz, Editor, Hay & Forage Grower
Roundup Ready alfalfa seed could be back on the market in time for spring 2010 seedings, believes Matt Fanta, trait business manager for Forage Genetics International. He says the long-awaited draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the biotech crop is expected to be published by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) by mid-September.

Following an expected 60-day public comment period, APHIS will prepare a final EIS. If the document shows that Roundup Ready and conventional alfalfa can successfully co-exist, and barring further legal action against the transgenic crop, it may once again be deregulated.

Roundup Ready alfalfa seed has been unavailable since spring 2007, when a federal judge issued an injunction prohibiting its sales. He ruled in a lawsuit that USDA erred when it deregulated the crop without first completing an EIS. The EIS process was expected to take two years, with the draft finished by late 2008. But there have been several delays, and USDA has been criticized for its slow progress.

Fanta is now confident that the process is moving forward, and credits the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance and other groups for letting USDA know the importance of timeliness. “There is a desire for growers to have access to the technology, and if they can’t plant it next spring they lose a whole year,” he says.

While he has been frustrated by the delays, “we’re strong proponents of having the EIS prepared in a full and complete manner.” He says public comments from APHIS indicate the agency is making significant progress. “Getting the information into a concise form where it can be published is a large task based on the volume that’s been contributed,” Fanta states.

“We’re very hopeful on a spring 2010 opportunity, and we think the opportunity is real based on the progress that’s being made today,” he adds.

If growers have opinions for or against Roundup Ready alfalfa, Fanta urges them to make their views known during the public comment period. The draft EIS will be posted, and comments solicited, at www.regulations.gov. Or, go to www.roundupreadyalfalfa.com. That site, set up by Forage Genetics, will list the necessary steps for submitting comments once the open comment period begins.

“If they go there today and provide their email address, we’ll keep them up to date on when the open comment period is,” says Fanta. “They don’t have to keep checking back.”

When Roundup Ready alfalfa goes back on the market, significant quantities of seed of several varieties will be available. Forage Genetics developed the first varieties under a licensing agreement with Monsanto, then in turn licensed the technology to other seed companies.