Tim Wagoner is a young alfalfa seed grower who opposes the Roundup Ready alfalfa option that would restrict where the transgenic crop could be grown.

As president of the Gardena Alfalfa Seed Growers Association, which estimates that it grows 20-25% of all U.S. alfalfa seed produced, he urges U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to base his decision on science and deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa without restrictions.

Wagoner’s Jan. 15 letter, with unanimous association approval, also asks that the Touchet area of Walla Walla Valley in Washington State not be designated GMO-free.

“Alfalfa seed is grown in only a few areas of the nation,” says Wagoner, who farms 1,800 acres with his parents, Mark and Sharla, outside of Touchet. The Wagoners usually grow three-fourths of their acreage for alfalfa seed, although, since the 2007 lawsuit stopping the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa, their seed contracts have been reduced to around 900 acres.

“If they (USDA) were to determine that our area wasn’t going to be able to raise biotech crops, and if the demand for alfalfa goes up as we expect it to with the (future) release of low-lignin alfalfas, then the U.S. may not be able to produce enough alfalfa seed to meet the demands of the market,” he says.

“If we’re stuck raising the conventional alfalfa seed 10 years down the road, and the demand for biotech alfalfa is really high, we won’t be able to raise it. There would be winners and losers, because the winners who can produce it are going to be making lots of money. And we’re going to be stuck raising alfalfa seed for sensitive export markets or the people who want to raise conventional alfalfa.”

USDA released the final 2,300-page environmental impact statement (EIS), as mandated by the U.S. federal court that took the transgenic crop off the market, on Dec. 16. It lists three alternative decisions: 1) maintain Roundup Ready alfalfa’s status as a regulated crop, 2) deregulate it, or 3) deregulate it with geographic restrictions on the production of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed and, in some locations, Roundup Ready hay. The agency prefers the second and third options.

Wagoner and his group, however, don’t see the third alternative as a good one.

“We produce a significant amount of alfalfa seed for the nation,” the letter reads. “In the past we have been able to meet the seed purity needs for the industry, and we see no reason that we will not be able to do that with the introduction of GMO alfalfa.

“Setting up separate and isolated growing areas will artificially segregate alfalfa seed production in the country. The outcome of which will be government-determined winners and losers and probably the inability of the alfalfa seed industry to meet the growing and changing needs of its customers.”

The letter goes on to predict that, with artificial geographic restrictions, seed supply will be unreliable, grower choices will be limited and demand will not be satisfied. It also suggests that organic alfalfa hay producers who want GMO-free seed should be able to get it in states where Roundup is not registered for use in alfalfa seed production.

The Gardena Alfalfa Seed Growers Association held an emergency meeting last Friday, Jan. 14, Wagoner says, to discuss whether to send a letter before USDA made its decision on the transgenic crop. That decision can come no sooner than Jan. 24, which is 30 days after the EIS was published.

“We took a vote and it was unanimous that we were going to send a letter to Secretary Vilsack urging him to make a decision based on science and that we do not want to be part of the geographical restricted zone as far as producing alfalfa goes,” Wagoner says.

He’s pleased the association’s decision to write the letter was unanimous, because its membership includes organic growers. One organic grower “said that he supported our decision. Even as an organic grower, he saw the benefit for his neighbors and he thought that he would still, in the future, be able to produce organic alfalfa seed with best management practices and isolation distances,” Wagoner says.

To see the letter in its entirety, visit hayandforage.com/.