Genetic Seed Growers `Laying Low'

Published online: Jan 05, 2000
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Growers are "laying low" waiting to get clearer signals from the industry as to the future of genetically engineered potatoes.

According to Clen Atchley, long-time Ashton, ID, seed grower and vice president of seed for the Potato Growers of Idaho, there will be some sales of the seed this year. "They will get planted because we'll need the seed. As to how much, it is too early to know."

Atchley said the genetically enhanced seed was in the production pipeline long before processors told growers they would not take it. Some processors are under pressure to not include any genetically modified material in the food products they sell to the consumer.

"A lot of this uncertainty has been driven by extreme environmental groups that are somewhat clueless as to what they want except control of the marketplace," Atchley commented.

"If seed growers have to take all the risk, I'm not sure how many will grow it. It will be in small amounts. Nobody wants to take a chance of growing product they can't sell," he added.

Atchley said there is a market for it in the fresh-pack industry. He said there hasn't been that much discussion about it going through those channels.

"If they need the potatoes, dehydrators have said they will take it but not many want to deal with it if they can avoid it."

"The saddest part about all of this is that managed GMO crops can be perceived as being more dangerous than the fungicides and pesticides we now use. We were on the edge of having product that would help us grow potatoes without a whole lot of chemicals, or safer chemicals. All of a sudden they throw away about 10 years of progress." Atchley commented.

Some growers in Idaho have a lot more exposure to the impending situation, he said. "Part of those grown are under contract to NatureMark but a portion isn't. Most of mine are under contract. But I know one grower who has 30,000 to 40,000 cwt that are open. He could easily lose $70,000-plus if they are not sold for seed."

NatureMark (Monsanto) has said it will comment on plans for the potato portion of its genetically enhanced crop lines in the very near future.

(Read more about this subject in the March issue of Potato Grower magazine.)