Roundup Ready alfalfa won’t be commercialized for hay or seed production in Southern California’s Imperial Valley, points out Mark McCaslin, president of Forage Genetics International.

McCaslin says his company helped implement the restriction, called the Imperial Valley Use Agreement, which has been in place since 2005. Early that year, University of California Extension and the California Crop Improvement Association held a series of grower meetings to discuss stewardship issues related to the genetically engineered (GE) crop.

“The high density of alfalfa planting in the valley, the general practice of harvesting both hay and seed from the same fields in different years, or even within a year, and the high proportion of alfalfa seed sold in export markets were all discussed,” he says. “The consensus was that Forage Genetics International and Monsanto should not commercialize Roundup Ready alfalfa in the area.

“Imperial Valley growers have been pleased with the program, and it is our intent to continue with this until/unless we hear differently from a consensus of Imperial Valley stakeholders,” McCaslin adds.

Growers in the valley can choose to plant Roundup Ready alfalfa for forage production, but are obligated to meet the isolation requirements of the Imperial Valley Use Agreement. The agreement mandates at least a one-mile separation between the biotech crop and any other alfalfa, says McCaslin.

There currently are no plans to implement similar restrictions in other areas, he says.

Most Imperial Valley growers favor the restriction, agrees Dan Putnam, University of California Extension forage specialist. He says the valley is the largest alfalfa seed production area in the U.S. in terms of volume, and since the seed is of non-dormant varieties, most is exported. A significant amount of hay grown there is also exported, and much of the seed and hay go to GE-sensitive markets.

“So you combine those two export industries with the heat of the summer, which causes earlier flowering, and our feeling is that the risk of gene flow there is much greater than in other areas,” says Putnam. “So in my view it’s a good idea to keep the trait out of the Imperial Valley.”