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Will Roundup Ready wheat benefit you?

(July 9, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- The following column comes from the Canadian Wheat Board.

by Andrea Geary

You might be one of the thousands of farmers who now use the herbicide Roundup® to control weeds, or you might grow Roundup Ready canola. But what is the value of growing Roundup Ready wheat if its developer, Monsanto, is granted the government approval needed to put in on the market in Canada?

The question of whether or not to introduce Roundup Ready wheat, a genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant variety, into your fields requires careful deliberation. Agronomic management questions are as important as the market impact questions that have been widely discussed among farmers and others in the grain industry. For example, any problems with control of volunteer Roundup Ready wheat could affect our ability to guarantee wheat shipments free of any genetically modified varieties. Many customers for western Canadian wheat have said that they want to be assured that the wheat they buy is not co-mingled with genetically modified wheat.

The CWB believes that a thorough understanding of the agronomic issues related to Roundup Ready wheat is necessary in order to make wise decisions on future use of this genetically modified variety. CWB agronomist, Mike Grenier wrote a discussion paper entitled, ‘Agronomic Assessment of Roundup Ready Wheat’ to provide farmers with more information. This paper brings together information and professional opinions about the agronomic benefits and risks associated with the potential introduction of Roundup Ready wheat, and identifies the main issues, information gaps and points of disagreement within this information. The paper's purpose is to disseminate information and encourage discussion.

Grenier’s paper identifies three main concerns about the potential impact of RRW. The first concern pertains to control of volunteer Roundup Ready wheat. The cost and availability of control options for managing herbicide tolerant wheat would result in increasing complexity and risk in managing crop rotations. Studies show that any potential returns that herbicide tolerant wheat offers farmers are highly sensitive to individual management practices and cropping systems. Including more than one Roundup Ready crop in rotation would require careful management of volunteers and could lead to increased herbicide costs, especially under conservation tillage systems.

The second concern involves gene spread. Field surveys demonstrate that volunteer wheat may persist in rotations for up to five years. Given the frequency of wheat in crop rotations, and the length of volunteer persistence, gene spread by contamination through mixing of seed or through pollen flow should be of primary concern for anyone who chooses not to adopt the technology. It appears that more research is required on the risk of gene spread if Roundup Ready wheat is granted environmental release and grown on commercial scale.

The final main concern relates to herbicide resistance. While Roundup Ready wheat offers a new control option for resistant weed management, there is worry that the in-crop use of Roundup will increase the selection pressure and risk of developing weed resistance to glyphosate. Conservation tillage systems are highly reliant on the use of glyphosate for pre-seed weed control, and any increase in herbicide costs due to glyphosate-resistant weeds could put conservation cropping systems at risk.

To read the complete discussion paper, please visit the CWB’s Web site at http://www.cwb.ca or call 1-800-275-4292. Farmers’ opinions are essential to a complete discussion of this issue, so please send in your comments.

To reach the CWB, please call our toll-free phone line at 1-800-275-4292. This column is written on a regular basis by CWB communications consultant Andrea Geary.