Thomas G. Chastain

The Willamette Valley is the USA’s only significant sugarbeet seed production area for this important crop.   Annual acreage in the region for sugarbeet seed production ranges from 2000 to 6000 acres, but has declined since the 1990s (Fig. 1).  Technological advancements in production of sugarbeets has resulted in reduced but stable seed production acreages in the Willamette Valley.

Figure 1. Sugarbeet seed production acreage trends in the Willamette Valley.

Sugarbeet seed yields have been stable over time with yields ranging from 2000 to 3000 pounds per acre (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Sugarbeet seed yield trends in the Willamette Valley.

The area’s specialty seed industry has been opposed to GMO production in the Willamette Valley but one of the key specialty seed crops represented by the grower’s organization is GMO sugarbeets.  The sugarbeet industry has shifted to grow predominantly GMO cultivars and the Willamette Valley’s seed industry has responded to this change in the marketplace.

Sugarbeet seed (T.G. Chastain photo)

A coalition of environmental and organic agriculture groups has been fighting the introduction and growing of GMO sugarbeets in the Willamette Valley for several years.  Among their concerns is that GMO sugarbeets could harm the organic seed industry by contaminating chard and table beet seed production.  They also claim that the prescribed 3-mile isolation distance between beet cultivars will not be sufficient to avoid spreading GMO traits.

Sugarbeet flowers (T.G. Chastain photo)

The local sugarbeet seed producers counter these claims and point to the long history and economic importance of growing sugarbeets for seed in the Willamette Valley.  This is another example of a controversy that is in desperate need of some middle ground – Science, Public Policy, and Seed Production.

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