WDAY: The News Leader

Published August 17, 2010, 09:27 AM

Ruling on Roundup Ready seeds brings uncertainty to the sugar beet industry

Felton, Minn. (WDAY TV) - There is uncertainty for the sugar beet industry in the valley after a judge's ruling over the use of genetically modified sugar beet seeds also known as Roundup Ready. Environmental groups and farmers have been disagreeing on its safety in food for years. Now, farmers say they're left waiting on the USDA to see if and when they can use these seeds.

David Kragnes has been scouring his fields, checking the crop's progress each harvest season since the mid-70's, but never has he anticipated next year's planting in late August like this year.

DAVID KRAGNES/FARMER NEAR FELTON, MN: "It's pretty unsettling that we not only have Mother Nature to deal with, but we also now have government regulations to deal with, an erratic judge to deal with, and what's going to happen next? We're not sure."

A federal judge has revoked the use of Roundup Ready sugar beets until environmental studies are done. It stems from a lawsuit arguing genetically modified crops could share their genes with conventionally grown food.

NICK SINNER/AMERICAN SUGAR BEET GROWERS ASSOC: "The judge said that this year's plant can be harvested, processed, and stored. We don't know yet right now if we can plant Roundup Ready sugar beets next year for 2011."

Executive Director of the Red River Valley Sugar Beet Growers Association Nick Sinner says about 95 percent of farmers nationwide use Roundup Ready seeds. That's why he and other organizations are working hard with the federal government to get decisions made quickly, so the right kind of seed is bought for next season.

NICK: "If we're not allowed to grow Roundup Ready sugar beet seed, then we're going to have to grow conventional sugar beet seed."

DAVID: "It's expensive; it's a really expensive set of choices that have been forced on us by the judge to have it happen like this."

Farmers like Kragnes say the conventional seed and herbicide is much more labor intensive.

DAVID: "The last time I sprayed it, all the weeds died."

It is a very uncertain time for this three billion and a half dollar industry in the valley. The current harvest will not be affected.

Seed companies are scrambling and do not yet knowing how much of what kind of seed to stock up on for the next year. Typically, farmers buy their seed for next year no later than December, but with the type of seed farmers can use still in question, seed distributors aren't making any decisions yet on how much conventional and how much Roundup Ready seed they'll stock up on.

"It's going to be very hard for the people producing sugar beet seed because of the lag time involved. Sugar beet season is a 2-year season production process so it could be very challenging for some of the companies to have seed available for the farmers this year."

Sugar beet seed can be stored for two to three years.