Boulder County owns a significant number of acres of farmland. Called “open space” the program seeks to preserve the county’s agricultural heritage by leasing that farmland back to producers. A controversy has been growing over the county’s ban on the use of biotech sugar beets on open space land. Farmers leasing the acres are under pressure to convert their plantings to Roundup Ready (RR) sugar beets which help them reduce pesticide use and increase yield. The county has taken the position that biotech crops pose a potential damage to the environment and public health and have so far prevented farmers from planting any biotech sugar beets.
Beet contracts require a certain yield be met or the producer is penalized. With the use of Roundup Ready sugar beets already the norm, (90% of the beets grown in the U.S. are now RR only a year after their introduction) producers using older seed are faced with the possibility of incurring penalties. There is also concern that the ubiquity of RR sugar beets will make it difficult to find non-RR seed next season.
Both CFB and the Boulder County Farm Bureau have advocated for the allowance of biotech beets on open space land. Recently the Boulder County Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee voted to officially recommend the use of RR beets to the Boulder County Commissioners who have the final ruling on the matter.
The Boulder Daily Camera reports that…
The Boulder County Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee recommended late Tuesday that six local farmers be allowed to grow genetically modified sugar beets on open space land.
In December, the farmers, all of whom are at least the second generation to farm in the county, asked that they be allowed to grow Roundup Ready sugar beets, which are genetically modified to resist the herbicide Roundup.
“I do have concerns about (genetically modified) food,” said committee member Janice Moore, who made the motion to recommend the beets. “I think they’re reasonable. I think many typical concerns are reasonable. … But somebody has got to farm this land because we cannot maintain it and we cannot manage it without our farm partners and they have to be economically viable.”
After Moore made her comments, most of the audience walked out of the room in protest, before the final vote was made.
The commissioners will also take into consideration a recommendation on the issue from the Boulder County Food and Agricultural Policy Council. The Council’s stated purpose is to “promote a locally-based food and agricultural system that advances Boulder County’s economic, environmental and social well-being, through research, education and public policy.“
Last month, members of the Boulder County Farm Bureau made presentations to the Council in support of RR beets. The Council will make its final recommendation on the 30th of July. A pro-RR finding is by no means guaranteed and might possibly create competing recommendations when the commissioners rule on the issue in August. It will be interesting to see how Boulder County weighs the posibility of reduced pesticide use in biotech crops, with increased pesticide use in “organic” crops. It will come down to fear, as in, are they more afraid of chemicals, or biotech crops. We will see.
Meanwhile, Boulder County Open Space is having a banner year for the growth of noxious weeds, the control of which- in Boulder County- is in large part done by “Pulling invasive weeds by hand…”
Memo from the Boulder County Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee
Extensive white paper compiled by Boulder County staff to brief both the Food and Ag Policy and the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committees