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In Nebraska, 99% of seed planted has the trait.

Don McCabe, Nebraska Farmer Editor

February 1, 2010

2 Min Read

Sugar beet limbo is over for producers in the Nebraska Panhandle and across the country, at least for the 2010 crop. Producers will be able be able to plant Roundup Ready sugar beets this spring while legal maneuvering over the biotech seed winds its way through the courts.


In Nebraska, sugar beets are grown on 52,000 acres and 99% of the seed planted contains the Roundup Ready trait. Across the U.S., 95% of the crop planted last fall was Roundup Ready.


In September, a northern California U.S. District Court judge ruled that USDA had to complete an environmental impact statement for Roundup Ready sugar beets. He concluded the federal agency needed to show a more thorough review process than was documented in the deregulation process the agency completed in 2005.


At issue are not the beets or sugar produced, but rather the potential pollen drift and contamination of organic crops in northwest Oregon's Willamette Valley where all sugar beet seed is grown. (The judge, Jeffrey White, is in the same federal district court as Charles Breyer, who in 2007 stopped the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa.)


The plaintiffs are the Center for Food Safety, the Organic Seed Alliance, the Sierra Club and others.


The judge didn't ban the genetically modified sugar beets, but instead ordered the EIS.


The case is in the remedy phase. In December, the judge held a hearing with plaintiffs and defendants to determine how to proceed with the next phase of litigation. In late December, a settlement conference was held, but no settlement was reached.


Oral arguments on proposed remedies are set for June. 11.


The process initially placed a cloud over producers as to the 2010 crop. However, Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugar Beet Growers Association and co-chairman of the Sugar Industry Biotech Council, says the court placed no restrictions on planting Roundup Ready sugar beet seed this spring.


Seed for 2010 planting was planted in the fall of 2008, in a two-year process that involves planting the seed in fall, harvesting it in July of the following year and then processing it for the next spring. The 2011 seed crop has already been planted in the Willamette Valley.


Jerry Darnell, ag manager for Western Sugar Cooperative in Nebraska, says commercial sugar beet crops produce no pollen because the beets are harvested before they bolt, or pollinate. 

About the Author(s)

Don McCabe

Nebraska Farmer Editor

Growing up on a farm near Newcastle, Neb., Don McCabe was always interested in agriculture. After a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy, he earned his journalism degree from the University of Nebraska. He joined the staff at Nebraska Farmer in 1977, first as a writer and eventually serving for many years as the publication's editor. McCabe is now retired in Lincoln, but still contributes regularly to Nebraska Farmer as a freelance writer. 

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