Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why we choose GMO crops

There were many reasons that we choose corn and soybean varieties that contain GMO traits. Many things took place near the time when GMO crops were released. We increased the acres of our land that we used a no till cropping system that relies on crop rotation as much as herbicides to control weeds. The government farm program was greatly changed that allowed us to plant a variety of farm program crops that we needed in our rotation. In the previous program farmers were only allowed to plant crops according to "base acres", historical crop planting, without a lot of paperwork and taking some acres out of the program or buying or renting land that contained the necessary base acres. In my part of Kansas most land contain largely wheat acres, due to wheat followed by wheat for many years as the primary crop rotation. Wheat is great for a rotation, particularly when rotating to corn or grain sorghum in an area like this where water availability can be a challenge, but a poor choice for continuous cropping particularly when combined with a moldboard plow that places all of the residue in what is essentially a dry tomb that only allows for minimal decomposition or burning the residue off and allows for increased soil erosion and poor soil health.

Before the advent of Roundup Ready Soybeans, Roundup is a non selective contact herbicide, the herbicide choices for weed outbreaks were limited. a product that was effective for us in past was Cobra, but it made the soybeans look very sick. We were some of the early adapters of no till in our area so a lot of trial and error in crop rotations took place and herbicide carryover and rotation restrictions are always a concern. After experimenting soybeans were found to be a good fit between grain sorghum and wheat. Rotation restrictions also puts some limits on the preplant residual herbicide choices and sometimes also on the herbicides we can apply over the top during the growing season. This makes RoundUp, active ingredient glyphosate, very attractive since there is no rotation restrictions following application of it. Using Cobra as an example, it has a 12 months rotation restriction to wheat, we typically seed wheat within less than a week following soybean harvest so if we used it we would have to either idle the land for a year or plant another crop the following spring.

We plant corn that contain both herbicide tolerant and insect resistant corn on irrigated fields. Initially we were reluctant of planting both Roundup Ready soybeans and corn in the rotation, because of the chance of developing herbicide resistance in weeds. Insect resistant corn was very appealing because it controled corn borers without the need for organophosphate insecticides, these were a very effective class of insecticides that killed every insect present in the applied area and has been banned a few years ago. With GMO corn we have targeted insect control and according to USDA-ARS researcher Dr. Jonathan Lundgren's has found a tremendous amount of predator insects present in fields of Bt corn. Dr. Lundgren feels that farmers might want to consider saving seed expenses by reducing the amount of Bt corn they plant because of the effectiveness and widespread use. The last few years we've planted corn with stacked traits to obtain the insect resistance we feel we need in the corn varieties that best suit our irrigated fields. With so many different traits available care is taken to note which fields are planted to herbicide resistant corn if follow up weed treatment is needed, all of the necessary refuge for the insect resistant traits are planted first. We plant seed from all three major GMO technology companies, each Bt corn is slightly different, we try to match the seed variety that's best suited to the field.

Our non irrigated corn, in the years we feel that our higher quality land has adequate moisture to raise a corn crop, we plant heebicide resistant corn. Insect resistant traits aren't necessary because of time between possible corn crops, diverse rotation and the physical distance to other corn fields and it reduces seed expense on a crop that might fail. sometimes seed dealers will give us a bag or two of seed that they think is ideal for those fields that contain insect resistant traits.

For the last few years in our soybeans were seeded them in 15 inch rows. This narrower row spacing allow the plants close the rows earlier and shade out late germinating weeds. I'm wanting to try this on corn also, the combine attachment for corn has to match row spacing so this is an added expense for a specialized piece of equipment. This past year in a weedy corn field I noticed the narrow strip where the fertilizer is applied next to the corn row was largely void of weeds. I think with narrower rows combined with how we apply fertilizer might decrease weed pressure and the possibility of a late herbicide application.

Sorghum and sunflowers are such a minor crop and small market, seed companies didn't see enough market for the time and research to develop GMO traits for them. After the export challenges faced by corn and soybeans GMO wheat research was essentially shelved, there are rumors that research will resume in the near future. These crops in addition to soybeans are what we grow on our non irrigated land, most of our acreage isn't irrigated.


Country Lawyer said...

When you say "stacked traits", what do you mean? What would "stacked traits" entail. What percentage of field crops are under irrigation in KS?

Farmer Tom said...

Great question. Stacked traits is when a seed contains multiple GMO traits such as Roundup Ready for herbicide tolerance and a Bt trait to control corn root worms and an additional Bt trait to control corn borers. With our rotation our largest concern is having a Bt trait for corn borer. Corn borers weaken stalks causing it to fall over before harvest. There are so many combinations of GMO trait corn available now that it's difficult to keep track of all of them. I try to choose seed that only has the specific traits that I feel that I need, and the more traits added to a seed the more expensive it is. I work closely with a certified crop adviser to help determine the seed variety and trait package that is best suited to specific fields.

USDA shows 9.7% of Kansas cropland was irrigated in 2007, Kansas Fact sheet There are approximately 3.25 million acres irrigated in Kansas, Kansas Irrigation trends this also gives breaks down of different irrigation methods being used and crops raised under irrigation. Both of these websites have so much data that only an economist would enjoy them.

Christine Eubanks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine Eubanks said...

But despite the benefits or GMO crops, do you really care about the risks it might bring? Yes, we all know that GMO products have risks to its consumers.

quicksilver said...

Your first hand experience of GMO is exceptional.

It would be good to have as much information on this as possible.

The interest and concern is such that I note Christine may have gone over the top on this?

The farmer viewpoint on costs and benefits are essential to people like me who have no first hand knowledge.

You mention costs as increasing with increased traits but this is so ambiguous and we might like to know the cost non-GMO seeds or is this now not avaailable?

Wakarusa Love said...

Thank you for sharing your story. The idea behind GMO's is a good idea. Higher yield with less inputs such as water, chemicals or tilling. However, I am seriously concerned about the safety of these products. They are very new and there aren't many long term studies (send me a link if you have one). Also, the seeds are being controlled by a small handful of corporations. He who controls the seed supply controls the food supply. This could be a really bad thing in the future. In addition, does this type of farming do anything to improve the conditions of the land for future generations? I am not sure. Thank you for doing the important job of feeding our country and taking care of your family. I am a fellow Kansas farmer pursuing alternative agricultural methods. The future can only show us the results of GMO farming.