USDA'S Announcement

Published online: Oct 06, 2010 Feature Luther Markwart
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Typically, the complete focus of growers in October is retrieving an abundant crop from our fields and building mammoth commercial piles for processing. This year is different.

With Judge White's (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California) decision on August 13 to vacate the deregulation of Roundup Ready sugarbeets (RRSB), everyone's attention has been riveted on what can be planted in 2011 and 2012.

With anticipated completion of the full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in May of 2012, the Court made it clear that no Roundup Ready seed can be planted after August 13, 2010, absent regulatory action by the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at USDA that complies with federal law.

APHIS now has the authority to take "interim measures" to allow the planting of Roundup Ready sugarbeets in 2011 and 2012 with some specific restrictions. Given that our growers must make planting decisions and fall land preparation for 2011, our industry immediately asked APHIS to take such measures and to do so in a manner that fully complies with federal law and responds to the concerns of the Court.

This process is neither simple, quick, nor fully predictable, given that all parties are always working under the threat of continued litigation. What I can assure you of is the commitment by industry leaders to work with APHIS throughout the process. It is also important to note that in May of this year APHIS submitted to the court a list of possible restrictions to address the courts concerns while an EIS was completed. Clearly they have been thinking about this for many months.

Industry leaders have explained to APHIS that the transition to Roundup Ready technology for 95 percent of sugarbeet acreage has achieved a number of important environmental and soil conservation benefits which producers have embraced. Since the deregulation of Roundup Ready sugarbeets in 2005 growers have made costly changes in equipment and farming practices to achieve these higher environmental standards, as well as committing to multi-year farm cropping plans and land leasing arrangements based on this technology.

The lack of conventional seed and chemicals to plant the 2011 beet crop, hand labor, along with the costly conversion of specialty equipment to revert back to older production practices, has serious implications for agricultural lenders, and will likely force many growers to exit the industry. The exit of numerous growers from the industry threatens the permanent closure of farmer owned factories and the farmer owned cooperatives and the loss of important manufacturing jobs in remote rural regions of our nation. The permanent closure of these factories would threaten the sugar supply and thus the food security of our nation. APHIS appreciated hearing our views.

On September 1, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the following:
"USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) must chart a course for compliance with its statutory authorities and environmental statutes, such as NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) while USDA works to create the environment where all types of producers can and do produce all types of crops.

The steps we have outlined today not only respond to the concerns of producers while complying with the court's ruling, but also further USDA's continuing efforts to enable coexistence among conventional, organic, and biotechnology production systems."

1) USDA will issue strict permits to allow the planting this fall of seeds to produce stecklings (seedlings). (This directly impacts the grower seed supply in 2012.)

2) In response to the a request for a partial deregulation of Roundup Ready sugarbeets, APHIS is us developing an appropriate environmental analysis to inform its decision making regarding this request to authorize future seed and root crop plantings under a combination of permits, administrative orders, or other regulatory measures.

3) APHIS anticipates making decisions on appropriate interim measures by the end of the year.

4) There will be an opportunity to for public comment on any environmental analyses developed.

As we go forward in the weeks and months ahead, it is very important for growers to remember a few basic factors:

1) The U.S. beet sugar industry has always taken this litigation seriously and both the judicial and ongoing regulatory processes.

2) There are numerous legal complexities that are always under consideration.

3) Both the Court and the USDA have been informed of the severe problems and commercial complexities of planting conventional seed (equipment, herbicides, land leasing, hand labor and financing).

4) The beet sugar industry has maintained excellent stewardship practices from the beginning of the commercialization of the new technology.

5) The beet sugar industry is committed to working with USDA to complete any interim measures and the Environmental Impact Statement in a timely manner.

2011 ASGA Annual Meeting: Mark your calendar to attend this meeting in beautiful Tucson, Arizona, February 6-8. Program, destination and registration information will be posted on the ASGA website (www.americansugarbeet.org) starting in early November.