Letter to the Minister about GE Alfalfa 6

alfalfa field

picture from: http://www.honey-whizz.com/alfalfa-honey.html


Here is a copy of a letter Bryan just sent out about genetically engineered alfalfa. This is an issue that hasn’t been getting much press in our area, even in our farming publications and we hope it spurs conversation. We’ve posted some links where they apply to parts of our letter. These are not references but rather articles you might find interesting for further reading.

We would love to read your comments and, as people send us interesting comments or information by email, we will post them in the comments section below.


Dear County Boards of the NS Federation of Agriculture, NS Commodity Groups, Council of Leaders members, Executive members, staff of the NS Federation of Agriculture, staff of the Department of Agriculture, staff of  Perennia and to our honourable Minister of Agriculture Keith Colwell,

I am writing to you today to make you aware of an issue you may be unfamiliar with given the lack of education and media news surrounding it, but one which will have a large impact on the risk management strategies of many farmers across the province.

This spring, after Western Canadian producers decided against the release of GE (genetically engineered) alfalfa, Forage Genetics International decided to instead release the seed for sale in Eastern Canada (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland).

This GE Alfalfa variety is called HarvExtra. It contains 2 GE traits. One is the Roundup Ready trait. The other reduces the lignin content of the alfalfa.

The purpose of my letter is not related to genetically engineered technology in general, but very specifically to GE alfalfa.

Western producers who grow GE corn and soy have taken a stand against GE alfalfa due to the nature of this particular crop.

Alfalfa, as many of you know very well, is a perennial crop, most often grown in rotation and in combination with other crops. It is pollinated by bees, which makes it difficult to control in terms of the unintentional spreading of GE traits to non-GE alfalfa stands. It can also become a weed very easily and Nova Scotia has a population of wild alfalfa on field edges, in ditches, along roadsides everywhere which cross-pollinates with our cultivated varieties.

Beekeepers have come out against the release of GE alfalfa because there are already so many things contributing to the decline of bee health and there is a possibility that this crop could add to their burden.

Farmers who grow alfalfa as a part of a rotation and in combination with other crops see the Roundup Ready technology as a pointless, even burdensome trait. Roundup Ready alfalfa will not be able to be killed using Roundup. The Roundup Ready trait is also outdated technology for new varieties being released, since so many farmers are seeing Roundup Resistance among their most persistent weeds.

The low-lignin trait, while at first glance can seem appealing since lignin is not digestible and therefore a low-lignin crop has the possibility of offering more nutrition with less plant material, is also a potentially harmful one. Lignin is a fibre and all animals (including humans) require fibre to maintain good health.

There is also the fact that as both an industry and as a country, agriculture in Canada needs to move towards more carbon-friendly practices. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is taken up by plants and stored in the lignin (in addition to the root matter). And so, low-lignin alfalfa is actually a step in the opposite direction to the one we should be moving in for Carbon-friendly farm practices.

As farmers, we must always be aware of the risks to our business and try to mitigate them. This is what Western farmers have done in speaking out against GE alfalfa. It is a huge marketing and profitability risk, for both producers who are selling to export markets that don’t accept GE product as well as to producers who sell domestically and locally to markets that don’t want GE product (such as non-GMO and Organic markets). GE alfalfa seriously reduces our marketing options.

As an Organic farmer, I can tell you that GE alfalfa will heavily impact the organic sector which is a sector that is growing quickly around the world and offers a lot of economic benefits to farmers in Nova Scotia as well as across the country.

Organic dairy and meat producers rely on organic alfalfa. Organic crop farmers use alfalfa within their rotation and as a soil amendment due to alfalfa’s great ability to bring nutrients up from deep within the soil. Organic farmers cannot use any alfalfa that has been contaminated with GE traits.

A co-existence plan for GE alfalfa has been created however most farmers who have read it and are familiar with the way bee-pollination happens as well as the nature of alfalfa as a plant have realized how ineffective that co-existence plan will be in the long-term.

I believe it is the responsibility of each of us to ensure that we are moving agriculture as a whole in a positive direction and to not put the viability of any farmer’s business at risk where we can help it.

Farmers I have spoken to, in general, feel that regular alfalfa has not been a difficult crop to establish and that the new GE alfalfa varieties are unnecessary, however I would be very happy to talk with farmers who feel that this GE alfalfa variety is very important for the success of their personal business because I do want to hear all sides.

As President of the Cumberland County Federation of Agriculture, a member of the Council of Leaders, and a young farmer looking towards the future viability of my own farm business, I am asking you to seriously consider this issue and look at both the pros and cons of this particular crop being released in our region.

At the very least, I believe this issue should be widely discussed and disseminated by our Federation and Department of Agriculture so that farmers can make their own personal risk management plans around the GE alfalfa release into our region. The NS Federation of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture have the responsibility of being the main ways issues like this are shared with the general farming population in Nova Scotia and need to help farmers learn about the risks to their farm businesses before it’s too late.

Thank you very much for reading my letter and seriously considering my thoughts. It is a privilege for me to be a farmer in Nova Scotia and to be able to learn so much from so many experienced farmers across the province. Through you, I am being mentored as a better farmer, better agricultural leader, and better rural community member.

You are welcome to share this letter as widely as you’d like to and I look forward to hearing your own thoughts on this issue.


Bryan Dyck, farmer at Broadfork Farm and President of the Cumberland County Federation of Agriculture



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6 thoughts on “Letter to the Minister about GE Alfalfa

  • broadforkfarm Post author

    I recently found out two more interesting things about the low lignin.
    Firstly, the exact trait has already been bred into a variety using traditional breeding methods, so is already available.
    Secondly, supposedly the big advantage for low lignin is the ability to harvest later due to the lower fibrousness, making for bigger yields. So whereas it used to be harvested at 10-20% bloom due to palatability, now it could be harvested at 50% bloom with a higher yield and the same palatability. The problem is that the ‘stewardship plan’ demands the growers harvest the GE alfalfa at 10% bloom to reduce cross pollination! So it negates the advantage!

    Lastly, it recently came up that most potato growers here have moved away from clover in the rotations due to wireworms, in favour of alfalfa instead. And it’s so crucial to them
    to be able to kill it off easily and quickly the following year. They now see ge alfalfa as a real threat to their management.

  • broadforkfarm Post author

    Thank you for taking the time and sending this letter.
    All genetically engineered, round up ready crops are of serious concern to those who research the subject. The consumers and many governments around the world who have, and or, are in the process of banning such crops, cannot all be wrong.
    I suggest that your letter be also to the public via local newspapers.

  • broadforkfarm Post author

    There is a section in the NS agriculture and marketing act pertaining to plant breeding and “protection” of crops from “invasive” plants by no grow zones.
    All of NS could be a no grow zone for xxxxxxxx.

    Cabinet (Order in Council) has the power to prohibit growth of open pollinators.

    the link:


    and wording:


    Provincial Agronomist
    87 (1) The Governor in Council may appoint a person to be the Pro-
    vincial Agronomist who shall hold office during pleasure and be paid such salary as
    the Governor in Council from time to time determines.

    (2) The Provincial Agronomist shall have and may exercise all
    the powers of an inspector appointed under this Part. R.S., c. 6, s. 87.

    Special growing area
    88 The Governor in Council, upon the recommendation of the Minister,
    may proclaim any area or areas in any part of the Province as a special area for the
    purpose of encouraging the growing of pure seed of any farm or garden crops and to
    prevent the cross pollination of such seed. R.S., c. 6, s. 88.

    JANUARY 11, 2013
    R.S., c. 6 agriculture and marketing 17

    Alteration of area
    89 The Governor in Council may from time to time alter the boundaries
    of any such area or areas and determine or change the variety or varieties of seed to
    be grown in any such area or areas. R.S., c. 6, s. 89.

    Prohibited growing within area
    90 No person shall grow within any such area an open pollinated seed
    crop of a variety other than that for which the area is proclaimed. R.S., c. 6, s. 90.

    Rules and regulations
    91 The Governor in Council may make rules and regulations
    (a) for the approval of a variety or varieties of seed;
    (b) for the proclaiming of a variety area or areas;
    (c) for the cancelling of any or all of such areas;
    (d) providing for the inspection, test and approval of such seed
    and the inspection of such areas;
    (e) providing for the appointment of an inspector or inspectors;
    (f) providing for the remuneration, travelling and other expenses
    of the inspectors, together with all other expenses incurred in carrying out
    this Part or any rule or regulation made under the authority thereof;
    (g) prohibiting the growing of any variety of seed other than that
    for which the area is proclaimed;
    (h) providing penalties for the breach of any provision of this Part
    or any rule or regulation made under the authority thereof;
    (i) regulating such other matters as may be expedient or neces-
    sary to carry out the purposes and provisions of this Part. R.S., c. 6, s. 91.

  • Cliff Love

    This is a great topic and one that not many people consider. The primary issue that I consider is the foraging of bees for nectar. Alfalfa that is allowed to go to enter the reproductive stage is certainly a great food source for bees. Mixed hay stands can sometimes be a balancing act relative to proper time to harvest and depending on the blend of forages, alfalfa could come into the reproductive stages and be food for foraging bees. The issues of cross-pollination and Organic honey being created from foraging bees entered into food sources can become a problem. Bees do not obey field signs! I believe I heard that in areas with limited season long food sources, as in areas a monocropping, bees will forage in excess of 10 km. Here are some great materials on bees and the way the interact with plants.




  • broadforkfarm Post author

    Apparently there are 5 farmers in Nova Scotia who are interested in using the HarvExtra alfalfa variety. They don’t care about the Roundup Ready trait, they are mostly interested in the low-lignin trait. While there is a variety set to be released with a low-lignin quality, bred by traditional breeding techniques, it won’t be released for a few years. Because the NS Federation of Agriculture represents all farmers in NS, 3 years ago they decided to not have a stance on GE Alfalfa.

  • broadforkfarm Post author

    We’ve learned that a traditionally-bred variety of low-lignin alfalfa is currently available in Canada through the General Seed Company. Mark Bernard is the rep in PEI (info@barnyardorganics.com) or you can reach the company in Ontario at http://www.geseco.ca or by phone 905-648-2101