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USDA outlines three alternatives for Roundup Ready beets

WILLMAR -- Another chapter to the continuing saga regarding the use of Roundup Ready sugar beets was recently unveiled when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it has prepared a draft environmental assessment to address a request from Monsanto. Monsanto has asked for partial deregulation, or similar administrative action, that will allow the continued cultivation of the genetically engineered sugar beets.

The environmental assessment outlines three alternatives which would allow the production of Roundup Ready sugar beets under strict conditions.

The three alternatives being examined by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service include:

1. Deny the request for partial deregulation or any similar administrative action. This alternative would halt any authorization of production until the agency completes an in-depth environmental impact statement.

2. Authorize the production of Roundup Ready sugar beets under a permitting process that would be subject to mandatory conditions to prevent any potential plant pest risks.

3. Grant the petition request for partial deregulation to allow the production of Roundup Ready sugar beets. With this alternative, USDA would grant the petition for partial deregulation and would no longer regulate Roundup Ready sugar beets. The cultivation would be allowed under conditions imposed by Monsanto through technology stewardship agreements, contracts or other legal instruments.

Alternative No. 2 is preferred by USDA since the mandatory conditions outlined in the permits would minimize any potential for the escape and dissemination of plant pests that could adversely impact the environment.

The draft environmental assessment is being made available for public comment. Comments received by Dec. 6 will be thoroughly reviewed and analyzed by USDA before determining whether to grant the request for partial deregulation.

In 2005, USDA granted non-regulated status to Roundup Ready sugar beets, which have been genetically engineered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate. However, in early 2008, the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club and two organic seed groups filed a lawsuit challenging USDA.

On Sept. 21, 2009, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a ruling that invalidated USDA's decision to grant non-regulated status until a full environmental impact statement has been prepared.

USDA is currently in the process of developing the environmental impact statement, which is expected to be completed by the end of May 2012.

Dairy producers receive payment

Dairy producers that sold milk during the months of February through July of 2009 recently received a payment under the Dairy Economic Loss Assistance Payment program.

The 2010 Agricultural Appropriations Bill authorized $290 million to assist dairy producers by partially offsetting the financial losses that resulted when milk prices dropped below the cost of production for most producers.

Payments to eligible dairy producers were made in three payment phases. The phase I payments were issued in mid-December of 2009.

Producers who did not receive a phase I payment had until Jan. 9, 2010, to apply for benefits. Those producers received what was referred to as a phase II payment in June of 2010.

The most recent payments, or phase III, were issued to producers that received a payment under any previous phases.

Of the $290 million budgeted for the dairy assistance program, a total of $273 million was disbursed to eligible producers under phases I and II. The remaining $17 million, minus a small reserve, was issued as a phase III payment.

October corn, soybean prices move higher

According to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, prices received by Minnesota corn farmers during October averaged $4.30 per bushel, up 51 cents from the average price for September.

October soybean prices also increased to an average of $10.30 per bushel, up 82 cents from the previous month.

Wheat prices during October averaged $5.59 per bushel, up 3 cents from September.

Hog prices averaged $59 per hundredweight, down $3.70 from the average price for September.

October beef prices averaged $89.50 per hundredweight, down 70 cents from the previous month.

Minnesota milk prices during October averaged $18.80 per hundredweight, up 60 cents from the September average.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.