GMO 101: The View from Our Farm
Questions are being asked about GMOs and their safety, so I’m answering some of the questions I get as an Illinois farmer.
What are GMOs, and why do we plant them on our farm?
Some would argue gene modification has been happening for centuries, resulting in seedless watermelons, seedless grapes and chocolate cherry tomatoes.
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are plants that contain a single gene from another organism so that the plant can do something it couldn’t before.
List of GMO Crops Today
- Alfalfa (for animal feed)
- Sugar beets
- Rainbow papaya
- Ranger Russet and Atlantic potatoes
- Arctic Apples
- Select varieties of squash
If you’ve got a garden in your backyard, you probably know how easy it is for pests to damage your fruits or vegetables. It’s the
same with our farm. Prior to using a genetically modified seed, one insect, the European corn borer, caused serious losses for corn farmers. Plant
scientists found a naturally occurring soil bacterium (Bt -bacillus thuringiensis) that is toxic to the corn borer, selected the gene and inserted
it into corn DNA. Now, instead of spraying the crop with a chemical multiple times, the plants fight the bug themselves. Organic
corn farmers who don’t use GMO seeds can also have problems with the corn borer. They can use an approved Bt insecticide on their farms. The same result
is achieved, but using different farming methods.
Another crop we grow is soybeans. You may have heard of Round-up Ready soybeans. They are soybean plants that can tolerate being sprayed with Round-up,
a chemical meant to kill weeds. But why would plant scientists make such a thing? To use fewer chemicals. On our farm, we’ve reduced our application of herbicides (chemicals that control weeds) by half. Fewer chemicals being applied means less traffic in the fields, less fuel, less soil erosion . . . all beneficial for our farm.
We also plant non-genetically modified corn and soybean seeds. Planting a variety of hybrids and using a variety of farming methods like tilling the soil
in different ways, crop rotation, weather analysis and weed control by simply mowing grass on the outer edge of a field can help control the number
of pests. Pests, including insects, weeds and disease, have been evolving for years. With or without genetically modified seeds and pesticides, they
will continue to evolve. So farmers must ready their tool belt, and genetically modified seeds are one of many tools we’re using today.
Are we told what to plant by “BIG AG”? Are GMOs safe? To find out how Katie answers these questions read her full blog here.