Final cropland policy sets conditions for GM wheat

Jefferson Dodge | Boulder Weekly

The cropland policy approved by the Boulder County commissioners on Jan. 5 not only allows for genetically modified (GM) corn and sugar beets on open space, but opens the door to other GM crops, including GM wheat, under certain circumstances.

While the policy explicitly rules out GM alfalfa, it sets a specific condition for the use of genetically modified wheat, if it is developed.

“If glyphosate-resistant wheat becomes available, it may be considered for approval by staff based on the criteria in this policy,” the language states. “However, if approved for use, it can only be planted in fields where no other glyphosate-resistant crops are planted in rotation.”

Glyphosate is the primary ingredient in the Roundup weed killer produced by Monsanto, the company that also genetically engineers crops as “Roundup Ready” to resist the pesticide.

County Commissioner Will Toor told Boulder Weekly that limiting GM wheat to fields where no other GM crops are planted essentially rules out all strains except dryland wheat.

The policy states that any new GM crop considered for county land must have been in use for at least three years since its approval by the federal government, to “allow experts and policy-makers to assess possible impacts.”

It is a condition that Toor says ensures that Boulder County won’t be “on the front edge” of using new GM crops.

The policy also requires protocols limiting gene flow, ensuring neighbor notification and managing weed resistance to be followed for any GM crops used on open space.

The commissioners also approved specific language aimed at how GM crops are to be rotated. To prevent weeds from becoming resistant to glyphosate, the policy requires farmers using county open space to plant a non- GM crop in the year following the use of a GM crop.

“If this is not possible, and Roundup Ready cropping is done in two consecutive years, then a field must stay out of Roundup Ready cropping system for two years before returning to a Roundup Ready crop,” the policy states.

Toor says the intent is also to preclude farmers from using Roundup during those non-GM years.

The final version of the cropland policy also aims to boost the amount of county land being farmed organically. About 10 percent of the county’s agricultural open space is certified organic, and the policy calls for doubling that figure by 2020.

“Boulder County will work with producers, the natural foods industry, and other stakeholders to explore and expand market opportunities,” the policy states.