Monday, August 23, 2010

Local news

Beet growers worried
by Justin Corr, KTVB News

NAMPA -- Sugar beet growers and processors are worried they might not have a crop next year.

It all started in 2008, when a number of groups filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Agriculture's oversight of genetically engineered beets, and the potential that they could contaminate other crops. Last weekend, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White ruled against the planting of sugar beets, using genetically modified seeds.

"The impacts of this lawsuit will be felt for many years to come," said Jake Putnam with the Idaho Farm Bureau.

Genetically modified seeds make up 95 percent of the seeds used in growing sugar beets, because they're resistant to roundup and are cheaper to grow. But the judge found that windblown pollen from the genetically altered beets could contaminate crops in adjoining fields, like organic crops. People in the industry say, while the decision doesn't affect this year's beets, it creates a problem for 2011.

"We are in a little bit of a conundrum. We don't have enough seed to plant a full crop, with conventional seeds next year," said Duane Grant, Chairman of Snake River Sugar Company.

APHIS, or the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, must complete an environmental impact study before any more genetically engineered seeds can be planted. Grant says he would like that study completed soon because his farmers are working with a deadline.

"Our growers are making planting decisions for next year this fall. We typically order our sugar beet seed in December, and so we're under a pretty tight timeline," said Grant.

Putnam says growers in the Gem State can just plant other crops, but sugar beets are the most lucrative. He also said Idaho sugar processors could be in the most trouble, without anything to process until a decision comes down.

"What will they do? Can they sit idle for a year? We don't know," said Putnam.

And the biggest impact could be on consumers, considering 50 percent of the nation's sugar supply comes from beets.

"That is a huge hunk of sugar. When you take beets out of the equation, then we start running into shortages. We'll start running into problems. And I think we'll start to see food prices increase," said Putnam.

APHIS may adopt interim measures that allow planting of genetically modified sugar beets in 2011. But that would need to happen in a matter of months to give farmers time to plan for next year.

Idaho growers produced more than 5.5 million tons of sugar beets last year, ranking the state second in the nation for sugar beet production.

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