Two years from now, the lineup of new alfalfa varieties will probably include some Roundup Ready selections.

“We're still anticipating the commercial release of Roundup Ready alfalfa in early 2004,” says Mark McCaslin, president of Forage Genetics International, West Salem, WI. “We produced breeders' seed of the first Roundup Ready products in 2001 and established it in multiple trials last fall. So the product development phase is pretty much done and we're on track in terms of seed production.”

Monsanto officials have begun the multiyear process of getting regulatory approval for the transgenic alfalfa, says McCaslin.

Forage Genetics licensed the technology from Monsanto in 1998. In collaboration with Montana State University researchers, company breeders inserted the Roundup Ready gene into alfalfa. Then they began developing varieties suitable for a wide range of growing conditions.

“We backcrossed the gene into many genetic backgrounds so that we will have varieties that are adapted in northern Minnesota all the way to California's Imperial Valley,” says McCaslin.

He suspects that the technology will be most widely adopted by commercial hay growers in the West. They use more herbicides than do growers farther east, and some get premiums for weed-free alfalfa.

With Roundup Ready varieties, growers will be able to apply Roundup Ultra herbicide to alfalfa to control broadleaf weeds and grasses.

“The good thing about Roundup is that most growers have used it for something,” he says. “It's one of the mostly widely used and understood herbicides available. During the three years that we've been evaluating Roundup Ready alfalfa and Roundup Ultra in the field under different conditions, we've had excellent weed control and agronomic performance.”

Forage Genetics has licensed Roundup Ready varieties to several seed companies. Seed prices and a technology fee haven't been announced.