Whether or not Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa seed is a wise investment may depend on a grower's location, and the specific weeds that invade his fields.
In northern California, the economics look good to Steve Orloff, Siskiyou County farm advisor.
“When you sharpen your pencil and really look at it, I think for most growers it'll pay,” says Orloff.
But University of Wisconsin weed scientist Jerry Doll expects Monsanto's technology fee (royalty) to be a deterrent to rapid adoption in his state, where herbicides are used sparingly on alfalfa.
The royalty is $150 per 50-lb bag west of the Rocky Mountains; $125 farther east.
“I'm surprised it's that high,” says Doll. “That seems intimidating.”
RR alfalfa received regulatory approval in mid-June, and seed was available in time for late-summer seedings. But Doll says those seedings usually don't need herbicides, and spring seedings often aren't sprayed, either, as much of the alfalfa is seeded with oats.
In Wisconsin, established alfalfa stands seldom are treated with herbicides. But growers selling certified weed-free hay probably could benefit from the RR trait, says Doll. Also, it may enable growers to lengthen stand life by removing perennial weeds from older fields.
“Innovative growers, and those with past weed management challenges might want to try a bag or two just to see how it fits,” he says.
To control perennial weeds such as dandelion, he'll recommend a fall Roundup treatment.
“Fall application of Roundup on Roundup Ready alfalfa will go a long way on perennial weeds,” says Doll.
The RR technology royalty is about at the level Orloff expected.
“I thought the seed would be about double what it is now, and that's very close to what it ends up being,” he says.
But growers in his area typically spray alfalfa every year at a cost of nearly $30/acre for new seedings and $20 for established stands. So Roundup offers a significant herbicide cost savings, plus it doesn't injure the crop like other chemicals sometimes do.
“And we have a fair number of difficult perennial weeds like dandelion and quackgrass that we can't control with existing herbicides,” says Orloff.
California growers who sell hay for export to Japan won't adopt the technology, at least for now. RR alfalfa can only be grown for domestic use.
Regulatory approval is expected soon in Japan and Canada, says Mark McCaslin, president of Forage Genetics International. His company developed RR varieties after licensing the technology from Monsanto, then licensed the varieties to other companies.
McCaslin says most companies that market alfalfa seed nationally have RR varieties. They're all top performers with a wide range of fall dormancy ratings.
The seed will likely be priced similar to high-performing conventional varieties, plus the technology royalty, he says.
The royalty is based on benefits documented in four years of university research. They showed improved chances of establishment success, plus higher yield and quality due to better weed control and reduced crop injury in the seeding year and in established alfalfa.
“Based on the results from these studies, the technology royalty represents a fraction of the benefit associated with the technology,” says McCaslin.
He predicts that RR alfalfa will quickly become popular, even in the Midwest.
For further reading on Roundup Ready alfalfa, visit:
Judge Says USDA Erred On Roundup Ready Alfalfa
Monsanto Asks To Intervene In Lawsuit
Return Roundup Ready Alfalfa Seed
Injunction Jolts Roundup Ready Alfalfa
RR Court Injunction May Squeeze Alfalfa Seed Supply