GM sugarbeets save Idaho, Oregon growers millions

Published online: Jan 24, 2015
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BOISE—The adoption of Roundup Ready sugarbeets is saving Idaho and Eastern Oregon growers an estimated $22 million a year.

“That’s the reason, folks, that we have all adopted this technology. It’s a powerful tool,” Snake River Sugar Co. Chairman Duane Grant told members Jan. 15 during the group’s annual meeting.

SRSC is a cooperative of growers that supplies sugarbeets to Amalgamated Sugar Co.

Roundup Ready sugarbeets are genetically modified by Monsanto Co. to resist glyphosate herbicide, which the company sells under the trade name Roundup. SRSC members in Idaho and Eastern Oregon planted 178,000 acres of Roundup Ready sugarbeets in 2014.

According to SRSC estimates, sugarbeet growers’ cost for herbicides to control weeds has dropped from $66 per acre to $11 per acre since they started planting Roundup Ready sugarbeets in 2008 and herbicide application costs have dropped from $42 to $21 per acre.

The cost of hand labor has fallen from $60 per acre to $0.

Even though the cost of seed has increased from $44 per acre to $143, the crop has yielded greater yields. Grant said a net margin increase of $122 per acre can be directly attributed to Roundup Ready sugarbeet growers.

That has meant a $22 million benefit annually to the cooperative, Grant said.

Weed control had become a critical issue for sugarbeet growers before the availability of Roundup Ready sugarbeets, Grant said, and the technology has helped change the industry.

Growers “could not control weeds with conventional technology and they were tired of working all night long, spraying ineffective herbicides and then ultimately getting to harvest with a field full of weeds,” said Grant, a Rupert farmer.

“With the advent of Roundup Ready technology, yes, growers are making more money but more importantly, they can predictively produce a crop every single year. That is as meaningful to a growers’ bottom line as what he is making on that acre for that year.”

Besides making it more profitable to farm, the adoption of genetically modified crops has also greatly decreased the use of pesticides, Grant said.

Grant pointed to the results of a meta-study that combined the results of 147 other studies and showed the use of genetically modified crops has reduced pesticide use by 37 percent, increased crop yields by 22 percent and increased farmers’ profits by 68 percent.

He encouraged other growers to spread the news about those results.

“We have an important story to tell and we should tell it,” he said. “You guys need to get out there and speak up about it.”

Adrianne Massey, managing director of science and regulatory affairs for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, told SRSC growers that one of the main criticisms genetically modified crops face is that only multi-national corporations produce them.

That’s because the regulatory costs involved with getting approval for a GM crop are between $15 million and $36 million, she said.

“That is why,” she said. “Small companies and public sector plant breeders cannot afford the (money) that it costs to develop (them).”