By the year 2050 our global population is estimated to reach upwards of 10 billion people.
So how do you feed that many people...
...you feed them Franken-Corn!
Or at least that's how I originally viewed the subject of GMO's prior to my latest visit to the Jeschke Corn and Soybean Farm.
I mean, honestly, it's understandable that anyone who hears the term Genetically Modified Organism would go running to a small corner of the earth to purge and then start their own 1 foot by 1 foot garden. The term conjures up a fear of the unknown. It makes us think of mad scientists who are pumping seeds full of unsafe untested "stuff". I say "stuff" because most of us haven't a clue as to what stuff is changed within the DNA because fear stops us cold in the grocery aisle. Do not buy!
I admit that it's me I'm describing. I'm easy prey to fear mongering and after my latest farm visit with my fellow Momma's, I gotta say that I'm not so anti-GMO anymore (insert streaks of thunder and shrieking lightning here)! Okay...so I'll qualify that statement. I'm not so anti-GMO when it comes to corn and soybeans...animals are a different story.
Now for the nitty gritty...
GMO usage is one of my main concerns regarding our food production in the United States; and rightfully so given that some leading foreign countries refuse to incorporate its usage into the food supply and at the very minimum require that every product be labeled accordingly. In the U.S., 88% of corn and 94% of soybeans are grown using biotechnology, and none require labeling. However, when one considers the requirements for a successful harvest, its understandable that farming has moved in this direction.
Limited planting season, weather, soil type, pests and farmer stewardship are all major variables in the farming industry. So much so that our most recent April downpours made it difficult for some farmers to get their seeds in the ground. Hence for every missed day in the field, Farmer Paul Jeschke stood to lose upwards of 350 bushels, equivalent to nearly $1500...per day! Corn is typically the first crop to be planted because it's the most resilient to cold weather, but it scorches if temperatures rise above 85 degrees. "They say you can hear the corn growing at night," said Donna Jeschke, as corn absolutely loves 65 degree nights when it does most of its growing. Got dry or sandy soil?!?!? Well, good luck planting on less than stellar land. And for goodness sake if there is a roundworm outbreak you can forget about salvaging the corn...these pests attack corn at the root!
So with these variables, there have been genetic modifications to resist some of the above issues. While planting in a timely manner is still a priority, there is a new seed that is coming on the market that will be more tolerant of extreme weather conditions. There are also a variety of corn seeds available today that are designed for varying soil types, and now your less than stellar plot of land will still yield fruitful results. In addition, the arrival of roundworm is no longer a death sentence for corn due to the bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis. Essentially the bacterium is inserted into the DNA of the corn as a protein and roundworms get sick once they partake in a corn feast. However, this bacterium is completely digestible by mammals. Now on the organic side of the fence, this same sort of bacterium is used on organic corn, but it is used topically and requires that farmers be very attentive to their crops (ultimately running the chance of some crop loss).
So here's the farmer rationale for the use of GMO's.
a. Less use of dangerous herbicides
b. Less use of fuel
c. More food supply to feed a growing population
Here's the flip side, (because you know I always have to play devil's advocate), while one of the major genetic modifications is pest control, farmers are seeing that some strains of roundworms are in fact becoming resistant to the bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis and a new breed of roundworms are moving in. So are we (in combination with natural selection) ushering in an onslaught of super bugs? What kind of affect will this have down the line?
According to Farmer Jeschke, we should "use the GMO's while they work instead of worrying about it 10 years down the line." Now part of me wants to suspend all concern (because quite frankly all of this worrying can get quite exhausting), but a part of me is a fervent believer that everything has a cause and effect, a positive and negative trade-off. Still, I have yet to uncover concrete reason for concern.
One comment by Farmer Jeschke really resonated with me. He stated that "[farmers] do not plant a seed because the seed seller is a nice guy...We plant because we have a good yield. Their interests are aligned with the farmers; there is no trickery!"
Talk about food for thought! Our local farmers are experts in their fields (pun intended) and as consumers, at some point there has to be a healthy sense of trust that farmers are working on our behalf to create a product that is nourishing and healthy for consumption, and that furthermore they would sound the alarm if something were awry. I too would like to believe that there is no trickery, after all, aren't farmers eating their crops too?
Now as usual, I've written much more than the average reader would venture to read, but there is still much more to share. I'll simply list a few takeaways and if you'd like to learn more feel free to hit me up with questions!
- One of the primary Genetic Modifications is for pest control
- Farmers are using tons of technology to manage their fields. So much so, that they can ride in their tractors and the machinery can do the planting all by itself. Big shout-out to cutting edge military technology and hydraulic systems.
Technology helps to:
a. make planting and harvesting easier and more efficient
b. save money due to precision
c. create a more responsible way to input seeds and chemicals
- Each silk stalk belongs to a kernel...cool!
- Less than 1% of sweet corn is grown in the U.S. and 99% of corn is grown for other uses. China is the biggest consumer of soybeans (which is supplied for their livestock)
- Corn pulls nitrogen from the ground and soybeans replace it. There are natural minerals that are now put into the fertilizer to replace the minerals that are depleted by any given crop. Hence crop rotation is no longer required at the end of every harvest season.
- Okay--so I told you there would only be 5 takeaways but consider this a bonus (tee hee). So here goes it... The 4th of July is the peak production of sweet corn and the 15th is when prices typically start to drop! Bon Appetite!
What's your take on GMO's? Is it an uphill battle? Is there cause for war?
Amina Nevels, Chicago