I’ve written here before about a lawsuit in California involving sugarbeets. The lawsuit is ongoing and threatens next year’s sugarbeet crop. Some articles I’ve seen estimate a reduction in planted sugarbeet acres in excess of 30%. Undoubtedly, this would raise sugar prices. Undoubtedly, this would threaten some farms.
A few years ago, we had the food versus fuel debate. Sugar farmers have done something about this. In the past 15 years, my sugar cooperative has reduced acres planted by 20% and produced the same amount of sugar. We have been able to plant other crops, such as edible beans, soybeans, wheat, or corn on those 20% of acres that used to be planted to sugar. The American food supply has benefited because of that development.
Since we have adopted biotech sugarbeets, we have reduced the inputs we have used. In all honesty, biotech crops are better for the environment than conventional crops. In the past, we have sprayed various mixes of chemicals 3, 4, or 5 times in a summer. Now we are spraying RoundUp twice. We also used to cultivate twice a year. Now we don’t. Because of the technology we are making at least three fewer trips across the field. This reduction has reduced the amount of fuel used, conserved water, and been healthier for the crop and the environment. Also in the past, we would often have severe weed problems in the field the next year and have to spray more on the next year’s crop.
There is a fear on the environmentalist side that biotech sugarbeets could cross pollinate with other crops. It takes two years for sugarbeets to produce seed. It is very rare for a plant to bolt and shoot a seed stalk in the field. In fact, on our 1000 acres of sugarbeets planted last year, I did not see one. Sugarbeet seed is raised in Oregon where they also raise table beets and other crops. This is where they are concerned. For as long as they have been growing biotech sugarbeet seed, I have not heard of one instance where the sugarbeet seed has cross pollinated with the other crops.
Seed for next year’s sugarbeet crop has already been harvested and is sitting on a shelf in a warehouse somewhere. Currently, it is illegal to plant that seed. That has me dumbfounded as there is nothing to cross pollinate with in the areas where sugarbeets are grown. If there was a plant that bolted, a farmer could simply destroy that plant with a hoe. Simple as that.
As a farmer, all I ask is that these regulations be based on sound science. In 40 years, we are going to have 9 billion people on this planet to feed and clothe. Modern farming techniques can do it. The science is there, the tools are there. Let us do it and feed the world.
I urge anyone that is interested to visit http://www.supportsugarbeets.com. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is taking comments on the issue until Monday, December 6th. Please add your comments and support sugarbeets.