Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sugar Beets in Limbo

Court decision in California could delay the Gem State Sugar Beet Season

Boise--With planting just two weeks away in Southwest Idaho, A Federal District judge in San Francisco could delay planting until he rules on an injunction filed by Oregon organic farmers over the use of genetically modified sugar beet seed.
Sugar industry attorneys say that judge Jeffery White took under advisement the request to stop the use of Roundup Ready sugar beet seed across the nation last Friday, there’s still no word from Federal District Court.

Mark Duffin, Executive Director of the Idaho Sugar Beet Association says it’s too early to speculate on White’s decision, but growers are getting antsy this close to planting time. Over 95-percent of last year’s crop were GMO seeded crop.

"The decision will have an effect on the beet season," said Duffin. “If he decides to issue the injunction it will impact us, if he doesn’t we'll get back to work.”
David Berg, of American Crystal Sugar out of Minnesota, said U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White hasn’t said how long he will take to rule on the injunction motion. Berg told his growers that they’re preparing courses of action either way.

Oregon organic farmers and environmental groups filed the injunction last year claiming that growing genetically modified beet seed threatens crops and food safety in general.

Stopping GMO seed use would dramatically drive up labor costs across the Gem State, labor now used in other crops at a time when workers are increasingly hard to find.

The beets’ engineered immunity to the popular herbicide Roundup, made by Monsanto, allows growers to more easily control weeds in the crop during the growing season. Almost Idaho’s entire beet crop last year was GMO seed.

Judge White ruled last summer that the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2005 had prematurely approved Roundup Ready sugar beet seed for commercial use without doing enough study of the environmental effects of growing the seed in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

The questions that will get addressed in the June hearing in federal court in San Francisco will include whether use of the seed should be stopped during the two- or three-year process of USDA doing the further study.

“We understand that Judge White does not have a record of frequently ruling from the bench, so we suspected this would be the outcome,” said Berg, who said he spoke to both attorneys Friday, as well as others with knowledge of White’s action.

But he knows growers are asking around to find out how they could get conventional seed if they need it, Berg said. But that would be a bleak prospect, Berg said, because the conventional seed supplies “are not sufficient to plant a whole crop.”

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