It’s unlikely USDA’s decision earlier this year to deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa will have any impact on alfalfa hay sales to international markets, says John Szczepanski, director of the National Hay Association’s Export Processors Council (EPC). “In the short term, some businesses may switch partners, but the overall trade should remain strong,” Szczepanski says.

Throughout the multi-year debate leading up to USDA’s approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa in late January, some opponents of deregulation claimed that foreign buyers would likely turn away from U.S. hay products once the genetically engineered crop was back on the market.

Szczepanski says a key factor in his assessment is that U.S. exporters as a group have established excellent traceability standards for the hay products they deliver to overseas markets. “We have a lot of confidence in our ability to segment products for specific markets. If someone wants to buy hay with low-lignin content or with particular color characteristics, an exporter-processor can source several fields to meet that customer’s needs.

“The same will be true with Roundup Ready alfalfa. Customers who don’t want it will be able to buy other alfalfa hay. It’s all about being able to give the customers what they ask for.”

Szczepanski notes that China, a rapidly growing market for U.S. alfalfa in recent years, has yet to approve imports of Roundup Ready alfalfa hay. “We’re stressing to our membership that it’s more important than ever to know exactly where that product is headed, before it’s shipped, to comply with the regulations of that market.”