Gene Logsdon and Friends

Roundup Ready Alfalfa — Monsanto’s Big Goof?

In Gene Logsdon Blog on March 2, 2011 at 7:05 am

From GENE LOGSDON

I don’t know how to jigger genes around to make biotech alfalfa or anything else, but I do know a thing or two about making alfalfa hay. Whether Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa is harmful to health or not I don’t know either and wonder if anyone does for sure. But the majority of scientists, after much study, have pronounced RR alfalfa safe to feed and to eat. I have to assume (I guess) that most of the people involved sincerely believe that their findings are reliable and that they are not being paid off by Monsanto to fudge the results. Maybe I’m wrong about that too, but in the long run, who can you trust if not the conclusions of science, imperfect as they often are.

I think RR alfalfa is a big mistake for another reason. Weeds are rarely a problem in alfalfa cut for hay, so who needs the stuff. Alfalfa seed is expensive enough as it is. If biotech alfalfa seed goes up horrendously in price like biotech seed corn has, who would want to buy it?

If I had a dime for every bale of alfalfa I’ve handled, I’d have a very nice nest egg in the bank right now not drawing any interest. Before farming went to the corn, soybeans, and Florida rotation where I live, weeds were not nearly as problematical as they are now. The rotation then was corn, oats/wheat, and two or more years of hay. If the hay was alfalfa, it meant that for those years it was cut three times a summer, sometimes four. A good stand of alfalfa over four years of regularly cutting quashed almost all weed growth very effectively.

Sometimes in the first year that a field is seeded to alfalfa, weeds can be problematical but the alfalfa will grow right along with them if growing conditions are normal. The stand might look bad for a little while, but after the first cutting for hay, the alfalfa will spring back faster than the weeds. After the second cutting, the alfalfa grows back strongly again and the weeds diminish. By the second year’s second cutting, weeds are mostly gone. I just watched my brother-in-law’s field down the road go through this transformation over the past four years. The alfalfa looked so weedy at first that we cringed every time another farmer ventured past to see the mess, but now it looks magnificent and ought to last two more years anyway. And another thing: during the time that weeds might be bad in this situation, with multiple cuttings all summer they will be mostly in a good vegetative state when cut and make good nutritional feed too.

So why RR alfalfa? As far as I can figure, the commercial alfalfa seed growers in the West must have a weed problem because when harvesting for seed, they are not cutting their alfalfa so frequently. Seems to me the money they save by not growing seed the old way they will spend buying the new biotech seed. Then if the weeds grow immune to herbicides anyway, like they have already started to do, who has gained?

Organic growers have a good way to solve the problem of biotech alfalfa contaminating their hay crop. Switch to red or white clovers. I did thirty years ago because on my heavy clay soils, alfalfa doesn’t grow as well as red clover. Also red clover does not frost-heave as badly as alfalfa and is immune to the alfalfa weevil which is a problem here. Red clovers and some whites are fairly easy to sow by frost seeding, certainly better than alfalfa, which alone was reason enough for me to switch. And we can grow our own red clover seed in the humid eastern half of the country, not true of alfalfa. If half the haymakers quit growing alfalfa, even though it produces more tonnage if you spend the money to fertilize it heavily, the commercial seed growers would be the ones to suffer. Of course, I suppose if we all go that route, Monsanto will rush in to save us with an RR red clover. I wonder if agribusiness will eventually RR everything in nature and charge us a fee to gather hickory nuts.

~~

  1. Gene
    The answer to all our questioning is in your final comments. Big business lording over the masses. There are some, such as yourself that will battle the sharks and live to tell the tale by not buying their seed and using alternative methods to acquire a reasonable return. This same pattern of thought has been successful in other industries for people willing to accept the challenge. Most people that take the other route don’t get rich by seeking and implementing alternate ideas but they seem to have a sense of satisfaction knowing that by not following a questionable vision such as Monsanto’s on the agricultural industry they continue on the straight and narrow path nature and God has set for the universe. Despite what science thinks they can do to manipulate nature eventually they will find that nature has a very narrow path to follow.

  2. Thanks Gene, so, so, so well said! As usual! With my bees, I would probably grow alsike clover, rather than red clover. Alot of us are reading, and you are a blessing.
    Pastor Mike Townsley in Iowa

  3. I have a weedy area of about an acre where I’m wanting to eliminate the weeds and improve the depleted soil. I read that clover will protect the young alfalfa while it fixes nitrogen. Do you think alfalfa _and_ clover is a good approach?

  4. Isn’t a large part of the problem here that people feel they need to be making absolute maximum possible income per acre? It seems to me that we need a shift in paradigms toward the realization that maximum profit and maximum happiness-contentedness-fulfillment-etc. are not really grown in the same fields. As for the hickory nuts, I sometimes like the comforting thought that even if hickory nuts, wild asparagus, hog peanuts, and the like were patented and RR’d, it’d be mighty hard to enforce such idiocy.

  5. This is the first time I’ve read an anti-RR alfalfa article where the author hasn’t predicted the end of the world due to RR alfalfa. Make no mistake, I’m 100% against it, but I get depressed reading about how the world is going to end due to RR alfalfa. Gene makes an excellent point though- do people really want to spray their alfalfa with roundup? Or is this a classic case of “When the only tool you have is a hammer, you make every problem look like a nail”?

    While I’m concerned about genetic contamination from GMOs, I don’t think people give nature enough credit. I highly doubt nature will implode due to genetic tinkering- we may not be around to see it, but I firmly believe nature will adapt and overcome anything we try to throw at it.

  6. To John Depew: True, but Monsanto would figure out how to do it.

    I hate Monsanto. I pray for their demise every day.

  7. I’m a little worried about it because my neighbors will probably go to the RR alfalfa. I live in an arid climate and only get one cutting in a normal year from my dryland fields. When the stand gets sparse, I let it go to seed and then harrow the seed in for the next year to improve the stand. If I do this and the seed is contaminated with RR because of pollen brought in from my neighbors’ fields, will Monsanto own my crop?

  8. We farm river bottom ground and are plagued with broadleaf weeds. In Oregon it does not get that cold but it is quite wet. The Alfalfa does not compete as well as the weeds in the first cutting. Grass is also a problem as it can grow while the Alfalfa is dormant.
    RR alfalfa is amazing stuff for us. The round-up does not stress the plant like other weed controls and the field cleans up nicely as an early shot of round-up allows the Alfalfa to out compete the weeds. The whole field cleans up as once you are ahead of the grass and broadleaf weeds they don’t get a chance to go to seed. Also, with less stress on the plant the stand lasts longer.
    That being said…
    I don’t care much for Monsanto due to their aggressive legal tactics in putting the blame on farmer’s whose fields were contaminated by their RR crop. If my alfalfa were to cross with my neighbor’s and cause him to lose a very lucrative export market, whose fault would it be? I’m the one growing the crop that is blowing the pollen for miles… That is one of the things I hope to have liability insurance to cover. Monsanto sure wouldn’t help me out!
    So, there are three sides to the issue. The opposition, Monsanto, and some of us who could really make use of the crop.
    In my humble opinion…

    • By buying a even a handful of Monsanto seed you are accepting, supporting, condoning, and shaking hands with the devil. By buying Monsanto products you are wasting the only power we have agaisnt them–money. Not just wasting it but voting FOR Monsanto to continue business as usual, including all their horrible legal practices and you are setting up one of your neighbors for a law suit of their own from the mighty corporate giant. We don’t know what the future holds, but we can bet that Big Business is not making decisions based on anything but future PROFIT. RR anything is a slap in the face of nature and that is not something I like to be in the habit of doing. Big Business has thought they could out smart nature before with horriffic results. Is your water clean? Good luck everyone, we’ll need it.

  9. I am wondering how, as RR alfalfa and other crops contaminate open pollinated varieties, how Monsanto can continue their aggressive and bullying behavior in the US? As eaters are getting more resistant to GE foods and Monsanto’s tactics, how will this one evolve?

  10. * runs outside and pulls RR alfalfa out of dairy goat’s mouths *

    I don’t care who thinks its safe – I won’t drink “diet” soda and I’m thinkin’ I won’t let my dairy gals eat that stuff. For heavens sakes!

  11. Thanks Gene Logsdon for the vindication. I’m in grad school for ag down in Florida (note: not alfalfa country) and our weed science prof was going off about how RR alfalfa was going to be such a bonus for farmers. I brought up the point that alfalfa doesn’t really HAVE weed problems (save in cases like Bud Sheppard’s above where alfalfa may just not be well-adapted to their area), so RR alfalfa is mostly pointless.

    I’m dubious about the RR alfalfa being mostly for seed growers. Isn’t it illegal to sell seed from RR crops?

    Also, that’s a good point about the weeds in alfalfa gaining resistance. It would probably take a lot longer to happen than it does for annual crops like corn & soy because the fields would probably only be sprayed that first year out of 3-4 years’ production and the weeds don’t have as much “incentive” to adopt Roundup resistance. However, if/when there are Roundup-resistant weeds in alfalfa hay, them seeds are going to go all over the place via the hay market.

  12. …so when the volunteer alfalfa growing in my pasture is shown to have Monsanto genetics in it will I have to pay Monsanto per cow grazing?

  13. It’s all about ownership of the organism. The more patented genes inserted into the biome, the better. Start the ball rolling with intentionally planted and licensed seeds, then let the wind and the birds and the bees finish the job. That’s the Monsanto method. Automatic and inevitable. Alfalfa is a particularly galling target because it’s so ubiquitous. Also, to my knowledge, it’s the first perennial crop to go GMO.

    Monsanto owns the rights to an entire plant if there are any proprietary genes present therein, no matter how few or how they got there. That legal precedent has already been set. Monsanto employs a roving staff of ‘enforcers’ to aggressively police the presence of their intellectual property in the field, plus a well paid staff of lawyers to argue their case against any farmer so bold, foolish or wealthy as to challenge them in court. In addition, the corporation encourages farmers to snitch on their neighbors by anonymously reporting any pernicious and felonious ‘seed saving’.

    Here’s the business plan: all US field crops will eventually be licensed to Monsanto, from sea to shining sea. Winner take all. As a culture, we worship corporate profits, but the success of this business plan would be an extreme case. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t seem to care very much and the entirety of the federal regulatory and legal system is tilted in Monsanto’s favor. Observe which corporation many USDA officials used to work for.

    Overseas, there has been more resistance, but Monsanto has nevertheless been able to get a few ‘trial’ plots of GMO crops planted in Britain. Now let the winds blow and the bees buzz.

    Meanwhile in Iraq, under new US-written rules, it is now a criminal act for farmers to save open-pollinated seeds for planting their next crop. No matter that Iraqi farmers have saved and traded seeds for thousands of years. Now, for purposes of “plant variety protection”, only patented and licensed seed may be used, purchased anew every season from approved transnational corporate sources like Monsanto or Sygenta.

    Do we see a pattern? Don’t think that the corporations will stop with field crops. They’ve got their eyes on the garden varieties, too. What can traditional growers do in the face of this pernicious trend?

    • What traditional growers can do is to create their own local seed banks personally, and start saving seeds and trading seeds locally among trusted allies… and underground if necessary. (Pun intended)

  14. I don’t mind saying that I’m opposed to RR Alfalfa because Monsanto is evil and I don’t trust them. I’m less afraid of the science than the company.
    I probably won’t plant RR alfalfa because our market is local small farmers and I don’t want to have this discussion every time I sell one bale of hay…

  15. We traditional growers also NEED to speak out agaisnt this BS and tell our congressmen and senators that we know about the BS they are letting take place and are not happy. VOTE, people! Get on your soapbox any chance you can. The survival of the human race depends on changes, soon. We will not be alive to see it, but this planet is going to have some SERIOUS issues much sooner than anyone wants to admit. Thanks, Gene, for your blog and bringing people together so we may actually do some good.

  16. To answer your question, Dale Asberry: You can grow alfalfa and clover together, but why? I don’t know your situation but I have a hard time figuring how or why clover could protect young alfalfa. Both fix nitrogen in the soil. Don’t know if this applies to your situation, but we have always been taught not to reseed alfalfa directly after alfalfa. Put some other crop in between. Gene

    • Thank you for your advice. I’m a neophyte farmer wanting to grow a green mulch in my small field and the more plants I use, the better the soil and mulch _should_ be.

  17. Mr. Logsdon,
    In response to your question, “who can you trust if not the conclusions of science,” how about trusting your neighbors (instead of artificial persons, i.e. corporations)? Let’s remember that science only answers the questions that it takes the time and devotes the money to asking. There’s nothing scientific about which questions are asked. Moreover, how many 30 (or 100 or 10,000) year research projects are scientists conducting to try to find answers to those questions that take more time to study? How many questions are scientists not wise enough to even know to ask? How many problems are too complex to be reduced to scientific questions in the first place? And after all these inherent limitations of objective science there are, as you suggested, all the limitations of human-run science affected by human greed and vanity and laziness, etc., not to mention politics and money… As Berry said, “let us acknowledge that the objective or disinterested researcher is always on the side that pays best.” To quote another favorite author, “I don’t know if the words ‘progressive’ or ‘advanced’ can be applied to a nation that can no longer function without certain technologies over which individuals have no control.” I think we should be very careful not to overestimate the value of science.
    –Eric

  18. Eric B, I say hear, hear! Most scientists learn early in their careers that to study or publish what is not acceptable to the establishment means lack of promotion, grant funding that dries up and in some cases, severe pressure (to the point of threats or actually being fired) from superiors to conform. What we call “science” varies from outright falsification of data to manipulation of results to a few very well-constructed studies that can be believed. I even wrote a blog post on the subject–see Research and the Real World here:
    (http://www.jeffersonsdaughters.com/page/2/
    We all need to keep a high level of skepticism for research of any sort, and if the research doesn’t jibe with your personal and extensive experience on a subject, I say go with the experience every time!

  19. Gene,

    Dang it, I thought I was going to shut my big mouth for a bit and focus on some of the chores that have been on my list list since at least 2008 and maybe longer. And to boot, my comment has nothing directly to do with the topic at hand, though I’ve taken my cue from your remark in the last paragraph about spending a lot of money to ‘fertilize’ the RR gifts of Monsanto.

    Every time I hear the industrial chemicals that are thrown on the dirt (which used to be soil) referred to as “fertilizer” I cringe. OK, I do a lot more than cringe, but you get the idea. So I’m just going to unload here. I say, first of all, that there is no such thing as “fertilizer” that couldn’t better go by a more proper and clear-minded term like manure, or compost, or cover crops, or vermicast, or green manures or whatever else one might employ to improve the fertility of the soil. What does a term like ‘fertilizer’ mean if it doesn’t mean that which impacts the fertility of the soil? And these industrial chemicals that are wholesale thrown on the dirt (that used to be soil) do no such thing. Calling something like anhydrous ammonia “fertilizer” is kinda like calling the 3rd Panzer Division “peace keepers”.

    I would argue equally strongly that the folks who do such things are not and do not deserve to be called farmers at all. They are agricultural manufacturers. That’s what industrial agriculture is…a manufacturing process in which dirt, which used to be soil, is simply an artifact of an industrial process. They have to have someplace to put their RRs and their chemicals after all, and the freeways are already being used. I would say as strongly as I can that its not just of matter of farmers making choices about how to produce their crops. Its 2 different worlds. The world of soil and the world of dirt. And its fair to say that almost all the birds are flying in the wrong direction.

    Don’t we need to insist on some meaningful distinctions, such as between dirt and soil, and between farming and the agricultural manufacture of what passes for food? Don’t we need to be as clear and forceful as possible in our speaking and analysis? How is it that crap like diet pepsi and little debbies and happy meals and cocoa puffs came to be considered food in the first place? We are by far the least healthy industrial society on the planet and have a mortality rate higher than a number of 3rd world countries.

    I’m sorry if someone might get depressed by talking about such things as if its the end of the world, but I’ll say that if one has the emotional and psychological fortitude to get past the obliteration of what used to be soil and the displacement of farming by the chemical manufacture of what passes for food, I’m confident they’re tough enough to digest my little rant and move on as well.

  20. When I started gardening again seriously after a lapse of many years, I was at a loss. I grew up in Indiana and Northern Michigan — neither climate of which prepared me for gardening in the high desert of the Southwest. So I looked around the world at climate regions like mine, and did two things. First, I narrowed down my vegetable choices to those that grew in those climates with a minimum of babying; then I chose varieties of those vegetables that seemed most likely to succeed in my climate. In come cases, that meant getting my initial seed stock from outfits that purchase seeds from overseas. I had some successes and some failures, as every gardener does, and I learned and refined from there.

    The point is, why would you grow alfalfa, for instance, if it requires huge inputs in your area? Why wouldn’t you grow something that is better adapted to your area and comparable nutrition-wise? Why fight against nature when you can work with her? There is no one who can convince me that alfalfa is absolutely necessary to a ruminant’s health when there are so many other options available. Therefore, there is no good argument for GM alfalfa.

  21. It’s not just a matter of time before Monsanto starts working on it’s little plan for forcing its way into the pockets of even the produce farmer and home gardener – Monsanto began that effort two or three years ago (as noted here).

    This is part of one of Monsanto’s other genetic engineering plans to take over the world – injecting Bt into plant genes to ward off the creature known variously as the corn earworm, tomato fruitworm or cotton bollworm. Of course, while Monsanto is busy testing your garden sweet corn and forcing you to pay a Bt gene fine, the caterpillars are busy developing resistance to the Monsanto Frankenstein plants. Just as weeds are developing resistance to RR.

    I personally don’t think there will be any way to stop Monsanto until someone or a group of someones musters the lawyers and money necessary to challenge this gene patenting practice up to the Supreme Court.

    And unfortunately, the Supreme Court is packed with big corporate syncophants.

  22. Gene — I don’t usually bother to respond to your blog, because the responses you get are so incredibly articulate and meaningful I don’t feel I can add a thing to them! And everyone is always civil about giving their opinions. This blog is the best thing that’s happened in a long while! I LOVE your followers … all of ‘em!

  23. Jan, my sentiments entirely. Bob, I also think that the plant patent laws now in existence need to be changed. Who will take this on. It will require huge money. It needs to be done through governmental processes. If democracy works, the change will come because surely the majority is on our side. Gene Logsdon

  24. I have been wanting to try developing and growing some Henry Moore open pollinated corn for my little farm but have b3een discouraged by the fact that monsanto can “claim” my crop has been contaminated and confiscate it stealing all my time and improved seed just to shut down any competition.I’m surprised Gene hasnt recived a visit from them.I am needing to get lime spread and am wondering does the lime at the local coops pass the organic certification? and has anyone replanted seed from the previous years organic crop of hybrid corn.I was just going to use it one year. I had heard there wasnt too much yield loss for just one years use.

  25. Perhaps the solution is with the public.

    I’ve noticed prices for organic vegetables are cheaper here than the prices at the big box store.

    The business at our local organic store has greatly increased in the last year and recently they added another aisle.

    Personally, I’ve planted a garden which will provide almost all my vegetables for about 5 months of the year give or take.

    Maybe economic forces will improve the problem.

  26. Tim,I’m sorry I can’t answer your questions for sure. I have been under the impression that agricultural limestone, is okay for organic farming. My dad once planted some hybrid corn a second year and he said it yielded about the same, but that was a time of much simpler hybrids than what are mostly available now. Gene

  27. Hello Gene & friends
    G.M.O. is a subject that makes me angry. If the pollen freely blows in on the wind, or is delivered by bees. I become liable for its theft!!! BS. I don’t want it in my heirloom seed. It is a contamination, a pollution. It gives ownership of my seed to Monsanto, Then if I don’t Buy a license from them I can be sued and lose everything. BS. It should be the corporation and people responsible for my loss!!! Minor wins against Monsanto have been won in Canada. They have began to put there self in a position to be the worlds seed monopoly!!! What will we pay if they succeed!!!

  28. You are exactly right that the bottom line is that weeds are not really a problem growing alfalfa, so what is the point of risking the GM alfalfa? Phillip Geertson of Geertson Seed Farms has a new blog, http://phillipgeertson.com/ . First page is about Roundup Ready Alfalfa.

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