Roughly 70% of the 381 alfalfa growers who answered the University of California (UC) survey on Roundup Ready alfalfa hadn’t grown the transgenic crop. Of those respondents, nearly 61% said they would not plant it in the future, about 20% said they would and 19% indicated they may do so.
The survey divided respondents into two camps: those who had grown Roundup Ready alfalfa – 113 respondents – and those who hadn’t – 268. Interestingly, those who have grown the crop represented about half of the total acreage of survey participants.
Of those who had not planted the crop, 62% felt that other growers should be allowed to, either with or without restrictions. Thirty-eight percent felt that others should not be allowed to grow it.
Asked why they didn’t elect to grow genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa, 48% answered that they already had an effective weed-control program; 38%, that they were philosophically opposed to GE crops; 32%, that they grow organic alfalfa; 24%, that they were concerned about the crop’s marketability; and 21%, that it was expensive.
The voluntary survey was largely circulated through email lists from past Western and California alfalfa conferences and forwarded through state hay-grower, export and organic groups’ email lists, said Dan Putnam, UC Extension forage specialist.
“About 25% of the respondents said they grew organic hay … 21% said they exported,” Putnam said as he introduced the survey at the Western Alfalfa & Forage Conference last month.
“Keep in mind that less than 2% of (U.S.) alfalfa production is organic and less than 5% is exports. So, on a national basis, this survey overrepresents organic and export growers. It was probably biased toward the Western, organic and export growers.”
One of the survey’s goals: to find out if growers believe conventional, organic and Roundup Ready alfalfa crops can coexist.
“Coexistence refers to whether the introduction of this technology would preclude the successful production of non-RR alfalfa due to excessive gene flow from RR fields and consequent contamination of non-RR alfalfa,” Putnam explained.
“The majority of hay growers feel that coexistence between GE alfalfa and non-GE alfalfa is possible and are conditionally willing to make sacrifices in order to accomplish that with perhaps some conditions,” he added.
According to the survey, about 65% of all respondents felt coexistence was either definitely possible or possible if certain conditions were met; 35% thought it wasn’t possible.
A total of 71% of respondents were willing to sacrifice and/or change practices to adjust to their neighbors’ practices, either unequivocally or dependent upon what steps were taken; 29% weren’t willing.
In a multiple-choice questionnaire, at least 36% said coexistence implementation should be led by industry; 34% felt that restrictions should be mandatory; and 23%, that restrictions should be voluntary. Seventeen percent felt that the government should institute restrictions and only 10% thought no restrictions were needed.
Asked whether the amount of contamination in hay, such as less than 0.3%, would be important to their customers, 52% of all 381 respondents said it wouldn’t; 35% said it would and 13% indicated it was somewhat of a concern.
The question of whether a compensation fund should be developed for growers harmed by gene flow was answered by 44% of respondents as “no, this would invite lawsuits.” About 36% said yes and 20% said they didn’t know or hadn’t thought about it.
A mandatory compensation fund has been proposed by some parties and considered by USDA, he said.
“There definitely is a polarization of views on GE alfalfa,” Putnam said. For example, almost 90% of organic growers didn’t believe coexistence was possible; around 80% of Roundup Ready growers felt it was possible or possible with certain conditions met. “It was more mixed with conventional growers or those who were growing organic and conventional,” Putnam said.
More organic growers were also not willing to make adjustments or sacrifices in production methods to avoid contamination compared to conventional or Roundup Ready alfalfa growers. About 90% of organic growers were in favor of a compensation fund.
More than half of the survey report was devoted to nearly 300 comments left by respondents – 67 from Roundup Ready alfalfa growers, 97 comments from growers who use herbicides but don’t grow the transgenic crop, 44 from growers who don’t use herbicides but aren’t organic, and 100 from organic and conventional growers.
See alfalfa.ucdavis.edu for complete survey results.