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EU restrictions prompt Romanian farmers to nix glyphosate-tolerant soybeans in 2007

Agriculture.com Staff 08/28/2006 @ 8:00am

Imagine how you'd feel if you suddenly had to go back to planting conventional soybeans because you could not plant glyphosate-tolerant soybeans.

Well, that's the situation farmers in Romania are in. This southeastern European country is slated to join the European Union (EU) on Jan. 1, 2007. When it does, farmers won't be able to plant biotechnology crops, such as Roundup Ready soybeans.

As in the United States, a vast majority of soybeans raised in Romania are glyphosate-tolerant. For example, Romanian farmers planted 85,000 hectares (210,035 acres) of Roundup Ready soybeans in 2005. However, EU mandates will prevent these farmers from raising them in 2007 when Romania joins the EU.

"Overall reaction (by the Romanian public) is positive for joining the EU, but farmers are afraid," says Cristina Cionga, agricultural specialist with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Bucharest and a Romanian native.

We recently visited with Cionga and three fellow Romanian agricultural scientists and their host, Paul Weller, president of Agri/Washington, Washington, D.C. One of the reasons the group is touring the United States is to give farmers back in Romania ideas on how U.S. farmers have communicated benefits of raising biotech crops to the general public and policy makers.

Like U.S., farmers, Romanian farmers readily accepted biotech crops. "They love the technology," says Cionga.

Herbicide-tolerant soybeans were first brought to Romania in 1999 and controlled severe weed problems in soybeans that existed before that time. Without access to glyphosate-tolerant soybeans, Romanian farmers will be stymied when it comes to growing soybeans in 2007.

They aren't giving up, though. A group of the nation's largest soybean growers are organizing and lobbying to gain provisional authority from the EU to grow them. Although it may be too late to grow them in 2007, the group that visited with us is hopeful provisional authority may be granted in 2008.

One of the points the Romanian visitors hope to gain from their visit is how U.S. commodity groups work. The visitors are especially enthralled by commodity checkoffs and how agribusiness supports commodity groups and farmers.

"We've learned about the resources that are available and how commodity groups communicate to the public about biotechnology," says Cionga.

The Romanians will take what they have learned in the U.S. to give Romanian farmers an idea how to rally support for biotech crops. "These farmers are credible and they would be believed," says Cionga.

Besides soybeans, Romanian farmers raise even more corn and wheat. Romanian farmland is excellent, with rich, black soils.

Romanians are interested in biofuels, as some biodiesel plants have been built in the country. Ironically, biotech beans can be imported and crushed at these plants, but Cionga and Weller pointed out that farmers will not be able to grow them when Romania joins the EU. There are no ethanol plants on line to consume the nation's corn.

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