Friday, May 7, 2010

Sugar Beet Season

Steve Ritter photo
2010 Beet Season looks strong, Despite Uncertain Future
San Francisco—Sugarbeet Farmers across the nation planted their crop of roundup-ready beets this year, after a key ruling in California Federal Court in March. The season was in serious doubt until an 11th hour court ruling saved the day March 18th.

Idaho's sugar beet acreage this year will rise an estimated 3 percent to 169,000, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Last year, state farmers planted 164,000 acres which adds up to more than 5.5 million pounds of beets depending on yield, according to the Idaho Beet Growers Association in Boise.

Judge Jeffrey White of Nothern California’s U.S. District Court ruled against a temporary injunction filed by organic farmers and environmental food safety groups. The groups wanted an injunction until a new, more involved environmental impact statement could be completed by the USDA. White’s ruling allowed farmers to plant; at least for the 2010 season.

“We were pleased with the preliminary injunction,” said Mark Duffin of the Idaho Sugar Beet Growers Association. “There’s been strong demand for acres this year, I haven’t seen a final contracting number yet, but we should even be up a little bit over last year.”
Back on March 5, Judge White held a hearing to decide if preliminary injunctive relief was appropriate, pending completion of the case later this summer. "This ruling provides clarity for Roundup Ready sugarbeets in 2010," said Steve Welker, Monsanto Company's sugarbeet business manager.

Farmers have planted Roundup Ready sugarbeets for the past four years." He stressed that the in the next phase of this case, Monsanto will demonstrate that a broad permanent injunction is not appropriate,” added Welker.

Beet producer Mike Garner of Raft River thinks growers ultimately will prevail. "We have a real good case, 95 percent of the industry switched to Roundup, had the injunction been successful it would have been catastrophic, food prices would skyrocket. I don’t think anyone is comfortable with that, nor wants it."

More than 95-percent of the nation's sugar supply comes from GMO beet seed and had the injunction been successful there wouldn't have been enough conventional seed for a full crop this year, the ban could have impacted half the nation’s sugar supply with an economic loss of more than $1.5 billion.

Despite ruling in favor of farmers, White did warn farmers about GMO seed. "The parties should not assume that the court's decision to deny a preliminary injunction is indicative of its views on a permanent injunction," wrote White.

The Idaho Sugar Beet Growers Association says they’re taking heed. “We’ll have the hearing in July on the remedy phase, but now all I can say is that case preparations are underway. Judge White clearly said what his concerns were, we will have to address those concerns in the hearing,” said Duffin.

White added that until the U.S. D.A completed its court-ordered re-evaluation of the beets' environmental effects, Judge White suggested that companies and growers “take all efforts, going forward, to use conventional seed."

The United States Department of Agriculture did conduct environmental assessments of genetically engineered beets in 2005 But concluded there was no significant impact, so a more involved environmental impact statement was not needed.

But Judge White thinks pollen from the genetically engineered crops could spread to non-engineered beets eliminating a “farmer’s choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer’s choice to eat non-genetically engineered food” and that alone calls for a broad environmental impact statement.

Sugarbeet growers say that Roundup Ready sugarbeets reduce impacts on the environment and make their operations more efficient and productive. Alternative technologies require more applications of pesticides, with greater impacts on the environment and lower productivity on farms.
More than 1 million acres of Roundup Ready sugarbeets were planted in 10 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. In North America last year, almost all sugarbeet acreage was safely planted with Roundup Ready seed.

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