Prior to planting season in Arkansas next season, rice seed must be tested for LibertyLink traits. On Oct. 29, the Arkansas State Plant Board unanimously agreed to carry over rules imposed in 2007 in the wake of the GM traits found in the Cheniere and Clearfield 131 varieties.
“Seed is banned if it traces back to the (previously) prohibited, contaminated varieties,” says Mary Smith, director of the Plant Board's Seed Division. “The regulation states, ‘Rice of varieties Cheniere, that was produced from seed tracing back to the 2003 Foundation Class from LSU and CL 131 tracing back to registered or certified classes produced in 2005, 2006, or 2007, shall not be offered for sale, sold, planted, produced, harvested, stored, distributed, transported, subjected to conditioning processes or handled in any manner for grain production in 2007 and 2008.’
“So it prohibits anything from the two varieties that traces to the contamination.”
Has anything really changed or does the new regulation keep things in a holding pattern for 2008?
“It's the same as last year with a few exceptions. Last year, there was an exemption for seedstock production. So, last spring, a few people planted some clean Cheniere from the Arkansas Foundation Station. This is the first year our Foundation Station ever had Cheniere — and it didn't trace back to the contaminated lots from LSU. It was tested several times and always found to be non-detected.”
This year, Arkansas had “around five producers of that for registered class. So that isn't prohibited and is legal for sale. Of course, like everything else that's planted, that seed will have to be tested.”
There was another tweak to the regulations. Last year, for the seed stock increases, the regulations said the rejects and clean-outs from seed stock increases would be held and not sold at any first point of delivery in the 2007 crop-milling year. That has been removed.
“If you were producing clean Cheniere or CL 131, then last year you'd have had to hold clean-outs and not send them to the mill. That isn't the case now.”
Another main point is there's no second test of seed allowed.
The new regulation reads, “Any lot of seed that tests ‘detected within the specified detection limits’ shall immediately be removed from the seed market and must be moved through the grain marketing channels with proper identification as containing GMO characteristics or be destroyed.”
The phrase “may undergo a second test if desired by the applicant” used to immediately follow the above quote. This year, the qualifying sentence has been struck.
Smith is unsure of the exact reason. “The board didn't discuss it that much. The Plant Board director suggested removing the option for the second test since it really didn't make sense if you're trying to eliminate the contamination.”
It's important that farmers know their rice seed must be tested again. That's true of farm-saved seed, as well.
“That's the same as last year. (As for the land history regulations), those that grew the prohibited Cheniere or CL 131 varieties in 2006 or 2007 won't be eligible for having their seed tested for planting.”
The Plant Board has been “on top” of the GM rice situation, says Ray Vester, who spoke in favor of the updated regulations on behalf of the USA Rice Federation.
“The movement on this latest set of regulations began with the Plant Board, to its credit,” says Vester, a rice farmer near Stuttgart, Ark.
“There was no resistance to this move from any organization.
“I thought it be important that the Federation commented on how well the regulations worked out last season. It appears there have been outstanding results.”
The Easter freeze last spring damaged much of Arkansas's wheat crop. Until then, the crop appeared excellent. It was feared the freeze would mean a dearth of wheat seed, but Smith says those concerns didn't materialize.
“Everything seems to have gone well. We were a bit concerned with how the freeze might affect seed quality. But the seed quality has been very good.
“The certified lots we've tested have averaged around 97 percent germ. That's all of them tested through (Nov. 6).
“All the seed sent in non-certified has averaged 95 percent germ, or (close). That's very good and we've had no problems with wheat's quality.”
Only a couple of regulatory samples have had problems.
“And those problems were probably not due to the freeze. From what I've heard, it seems there was plenty of wheat seed available. The varieties may not have been the exact ones that farmers wanted. But there was enough seed.”