August 5, 2005, TriCityHerald via Cropchoice.com: 2005, Alfalfa
growers in Mid-Columbia, Washington say they aren't
ready to grow Roundup Ready alfalfa because they're
worried that if they do their export markets in Japan
could ban Washington hay.
The genetically modified plants have a resistance to
the weed killer Roundup, enabling farmers to spray fields
for weeds without killing the crop. However, the perception,
growers say, is that the product is unnatural and could
affect milk and people.
Monsanto and Forage Genetics International, which jointly
produce the product, received U.S. Department of Agriculture
approval for the hay in July and have started selling
the seed in every state but Washington. The companies
are poised to release the seed in the state as early
as spring 2006, and the first crop could be cut and
baled that summer.
But those in Washington who export high-value hay say
their customers in Japan don't want the alfalfa in their
dairy feed troughs.
Columbia Basin growers export about $140 million in
alfalfa to Japan a year. And hay is the largest export
by volume in the Pacific Northwest, shipped out of the
ports of Tacoma, Seattle, Portland and Oakland, Calif.
"There is no possible way that the Japanese customer
will accept it," said Chep Gauntt, president of
the Washington State Hay Growers Association and a Burbank-area
hay grower. "We stand the chance of losing all
of our export market."
However, Monsanto spokeswoman Jennifer Garrett said
the company expects the Japanese government to approve
Roundup Ready alfalfa by the end of the year.
But Gauntt said even with government approval, if the
Japanese dairymen don't like the product, they won't
import it or allow it in shipments. And that means big-money
losses for the Mid-Columbia hay exporters.
Talks between Monsanto, Forage Genetics and the hay
association have been going on for a few years. But
with the date of the seed release edging forward, the
situation is becoming increasingly tense.
This week, Gauntt said he learned that a longtime member
of the association's board of directors, William "Bill"
Ford, is being paid by Monsanto, which raises ethics
Ford is a retired Washington State University agronomist
who worked out of the Pasco extension office for about
34 years. He helped test new alfalfa varieties in the
area and has worked extensively with area growers and
"He's had the trust of everyone, and no one even
questioned it," Gauntt said.
Ford said he's been working as a consultant for the
company for about two or three years and didn't see
it as a conflict of interest because he has never voted
on the subject at association meetings.
"All I did was to work with them and put them
in contact with the major exporters here in Washington,"
Ford and the companies declined to discuss how much
he had been paid.