Farmers worry who will control escaped genetically engineered bentgrass

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Farmers worry who will control escaped genetically engineered bentgrass
By Sean Ellis
Capital Press | June 23rd, 2016

Eastern Oregon farmer Jerry Erstrom scouts for patches of genetically engineered creeping bentgrass on the banks of an irrigation ditch June 14.

It doesn’t take him long to find one. And then another, and another.

The bentgrass was genetically engineered to withstand applications of glyphosate herbicide, which makes it difficult to kill.

Farmers such as Erstrom worry it will ultimately take over the countryside, clog irrigation ditches and affect shipments of crops to nations that don’t accept traces of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

“I’ve been doing weeds for 25 years and I promise you in five years this (county) will be inundated with it,” said Erstrom, chairman of the Malheur County Weed Board.

The bentgrass was meant for golf courses. Instead, after escaping from field trials 13 years ago, it has taken root in Malheur and Jefferson counties and ignited a debate about who should be responsible for controlling it in the future.

Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., which was developing the grass for use mainly on golf course greens, said it is committed to collaboratively working with growers and irrigation districts to control and eradicate the grass where possible.

But some farmers believe a 10-year agreement Scotts recently reached with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will allow the company in a few years to essentially walk away from any responsibility for controlling the plant.

“I think Scotts should be liable for what they did but they are pretty much walking away from it,” said Malheur County farmer Rod Frahm. “Personally, I think since they created the problem, they should take care of it.”

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons.