The possible reappearance of Roundup Ready alfalfa into the proprietary seed supply pipeline has caused headaches for alfalfa breeders trying to accurately establish inventories of conventional seed.

“The last four years have been a production challenge,” says Mike Velde, Dairyland Seed alfalfa breeder, referring to the deregulation of transgenic alfalfa, then the injunction that pulled the crop off the market and its possible reinstatement in time for spring planting. “We don’t want to overproduce (conventional seed), so we keep our inventories tight.”

The timing of Roundup Ready alfalfa “has been complicating things for the whole industry,” adds Mark McCaslin. He’s president of Forage Genetics International, which developed the first Roundup Ready alfalfa varieties under a licensing agreement with Monsanto.

Yet, McCaslin points out, seed-crop planting decisions were made a year ago and the industry has been conservative enough to ensure there would be adequate conventional supplies whether the Roundup Ready crop was legalized or not.

At the same time, it wouldn’t hurt for growers to put seed orders in early, Velde suggests. “The newest and best varieties will have limited supply because of production. The Canadian crop produced in Manitoba and Saskatchewan will be poor because of rain, and the crop in Alberta is delayed. But I think there will be adequate inventories overall.”

Seed crops harvested late in wetter-than-normal conditions have a higher hard seed count, Velde comments. “But the hard seed will grow – studies show most of it will grow within 30 days, so don’t get overalarmed if the hard seed count is higher.”

Our overall seed supply is very good,” says Robin Newell, Pioneer forage product manager. “I wouldn’t anticipate any real issues with supply this year.”

Paul Frey, Cal/West President-CEO, says his company has “an excellent supply of proprietary alfalfa seed available of dormant and non-dormant varieties. For producers in the Western states, there are new varieties on the market that offer improved tolerance to soils with high salt content.”

He mentions that the common or “variety not stated” seed supply is expected to be lower because of poor growing conditions in several seed-production areas. Velde says the amount of economy seed coming out of Canada will probably be “very limited.”

The big questions that can’t yet be answered: Will Roundup Ready alfalfa again be deregulated – and in time for spring planting? The environmental impact statement (EIS) was not published by our mid-October press deadline, and a 30-day “public inspection” period is still required before the decision is made whether to deregulate.

“We’re optimistic,” McCaslin says. “USDA has been, from our standpoint, reluctant for the last two years to forecast dates. So, as of late, they’ve actually said publicly, ‘It (the EIS) is a priority; we expect to get it done by the end of the year.’ We see that as a good sign.

“The challenge for growers is to make planting decisions,” he adds. “A lot of decisions on what to plant and how many acres are made in December. So we’re hoping that an EIS published by December would give growers enough notice that they need to order seed 30 days after that.”

If the transgenic crop is on the market in time for spring planting, the breeders say they can meet demand. “We have varieties that we were selling previously and they continue to hold their germs (percent of germination) nicely. Alfalfa’s kind to us that way, unlike some other crops,” Newell says.

“The germ is going to fall, but I don’t think that’s going to be a real big issue,” Velde says.

The germination percent of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed is tested every six months and has decreased only 1-2% over the past three years to around 91%, University of Wisconsin Extension forage specialist Dan Undersander says he was told by industry representatives.”

As long as the germ is above 90, it’s good seed and there’s no impact of age. Some of these lots will generally stay high because they were stored in the West under arid conditions. If they had been stored out here (in the Midwest) where it was humid, they might have lost more germ.”