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The Conventional Farmer Who’s Turning Away From GMOs

The Conventional Farmer Who’s Turning Away From GMOs

You might think this is the time of year when things are calm on the farm, but just the opposite is true. While the fields are quiet and the farming equipment is quietly tucked away in the barn, it’s time to select the crops for next year and determine what’s being planted where. Choosing crops, however, isn’t just about deciding to grow carrots, peas, or corn (or, more accurately, corn, wheat, or soy), but what kind of any given crop a farmer wants to produce: sweet corn versus high-starch corn, for example, depending on what’s likely to sell best in the coming year. Furthermore, the farmer needs to make another critical decision: GMO or non-GMO?

For some farmers, it’s an easy choice. Some are actively trying to avoid GMO crops in order to obtain specialty certifications and the premium price that comes with them, while others may be seeking to produce crops more sustainably and ethically. Others prefer GMO crops for a variety of reasons, including perceived ease of harvesting, specific desired traits and contracts with seed companies.

There’s a serious drawback to growing with GMO seeds, though: they tend to be extremely costly. Biotechnology companies need to recoup their research and development costs, which requires high prices for seed and related specialty products such as specially formulated herbicides and pesticides. Farmers who pay these premiums can get locked into a merry-go-round with the biotech company, finding themselves trapped with GMO crops or resistant to change.

That was certainly the case with Chris Huegerich, a farmer in Iowa who started out growing with GMO seeds because his father had embraced the technology and didn’t see any other way to grow. Initially, the crops performed extremely well, but in recent years, Huegerich had noticed a decline in yields and performance as pests and weeds became resistant. So he decided to run an experiment, planting part of his fields last year with conventional seeds. He immediately noticed a difference: they were cheaper to buy and cheaper to grow, and the yield was higher, too. In 2013, he repeated the experiment, converting an even higher percentage of his acreage to non-GMO planting, and he was similarly pleased by the result.

Considerable consumer pressure has already played a significant role in attitudes about GMO crops. As more and more consumers demand food labeling and specifically seek out GMO-free products, companies in turn are asking their supplying farmers to consider planting with conventional seeds. This is combined with a growing realization that GMO crops may not be as miraculous as previously believed when it comes to pest resistance and pairing with herbicides for weed control is leading some farmers to do the same thing Huegerich did, questioning the value of GMOs and giving conventional seeds a go.

One of the things that’s particularly interesting about these cases is that the farmers involved are not necessarily pushing for organic certification or even aiming for consumers who prefer GMO-free products. They’re just finding that GMOs work better for their needs, illustrating that sometimes, a revolution can come from a surprising corner.

If farmers continue to turn away from GMOs, biotech companies will have to scramble even harder to come up with new products and persuasive sales techniques. And even that may not be enough. In this case, a persuasive economic argument for working with non-GMO crops is emerging from multiple perspectives — those of consumers and farmers alike — and it may prove to be a tipping point for the industry.

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Photo credit: Alison Postma

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105 comments

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12:11AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

You people do not know because you don't work with it. I'm here to get the FACTS out! I have seen first hand how yields have changed the past 20 years. A good NON GMO soybean yield was 25bu ac where a similar GMO variety can reach 45 bu ac. Before GMO we had to apply preplant herbicides and spray the fields 2 to 3 times to kill the weeds after the soybeans were up and each spray harms the plants. With GMO there is no harm to the plant, much less chemical is used to control weeds, in ways of corn GMO has reduced chemical use much more by reducing or eliminating insecticide treatments as well. Other crops that are GMO the crops are more tolerant to leaf diseases and root diseases as well. Without these achievements yields would be even lower. Looking forward to additional disease resistance to hopefully increase yields further. In consumption there is no difference between GMO and NON GMO. There is no GMO wheat, that report has been found to be a hoax. Wheat, soybeans, corn, canola, flax are all open pollinated, but wheat, soybean pollen only travels a few dozen feet. corn, canola, flax can travel a few hundred feet. Only a few crops can travel a few miles which in such cases only the female parent is GMO, the male pollinator is NON GMO. Raising NON GMO soybeans can not be grown economically due to the costs involved and that few want to deal with conventional anymore. A local organic grower gave up on organic and is now ra

7:05PM PST on Dec 26, 2013

Larry W. made some very good comments. Low level background radiation continually produces new varietals by mutation, so we are NOT doing anything novel when we accelerate this process by GMO techniques. Yes, we're speeding the process, but NOT in a safe way.

As always, Big Farma seeks fat short-term profits at any cost, consumer be damned! A lawsuit or two will settle their hash!

Now, I must in the interest of disclosure admit that at one time I used four gallons of ROUND-UP a year in my horticultural nursery, as WEED control in areas NOT used by any humans, OK? But that was spread out over ten acres and eight months, so the exposure in any event was minimal. I simply could not afford to have my employees --who were all paid above average wages-- do this kind of field work, which was formerly assigned to slaves of various skin colours. NOT my style! I haven't used ROUND-UP since 1999, and even then it was in undeveloped raw acreage. Onward!

6:36PM PST on Dec 26, 2013

Kyle, you are terribly, terribly mistaken, and when you repeat these errors to others, you put them in harm's way. I doubt you want to do this, or you wouldn't be at Care2.

ALL major grains/cereal cops are OPEN-pollinated, end of sentence. This means EVERY TIME THE WIND BLOWS the pollen is shared, so it can easily drift hundreds, thousands of feet from the GMO crapola and INFECT clean non-GMO cereals. Bees also carry it; pollen has NO borders.

I write here because for forty-five years I've been VERY concerned at what happened WORLD-WIDE: big firms buy other big firms, so now we have FIVE mega-corporations controlling 80% of all seed stock. This isn't free trade or free markets: it's called cartels, and is what fascism likes best.

The Fed Res Bank is a cartel of six foreign banks and two domestic: dontcha LOVE how they look out for the 90% of us? Yeppers, I thought so.

OK, get in line; go to the back of the FEMA bus, take only what you can carry....

2:50PM PST on Dec 26, 2013

Yields are NOT higher in GMO crops, they are not "engineered" to produce more yeilds, they are designed to TOLERATE MORE PESTICIDES- which you are peeing by the way. You are eating pesticides.

4:23AM PST on Dec 17, 2013

thanks for good news

1:20PM PST on Dec 16, 2013

dobra wiadomość, dzięki

7:44PM PST on Dec 15, 2013

GMO Wheat is out there. A farmer in Oregon has found GMO wheat in his fields. So it is out there and I am sure he is not the only farmer to have it.
"The strange case of genetically engineered wheat on a farm in Oregon remains as mysterious as ever. If anything, it's grown more baffling." "Wheat grows in a test field at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Some scientists believe that there's a chance that genetically modified wheat found in one farmer's field in May is still in the seed supply." "Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, recently reported the finding of unapproved genetically modified wheat in an Oregon field—and nobody knows where it came from. This is of concern, especially to farmers, but raises a larger question too. If genetic modification is the future, how will we control our creations?"

GMOs are scary. People should have the right to know what they are buying and have the options of not being forced to eat GMOs.

10:59AM PST on Dec 15, 2013

Thank you.

10:17AM PST on Dec 15, 2013

"A" is also a recruit for the propaganda unit of the Monsanto Global Terrorist Organisation. Pure Evil in the form of GMO world destroying poison pushed by criminals but they don't realize all their profits and their criminal practices are very much doomed, and they will pay dearly for their crimes. My solution is to destroy all GMO crops, have millions steal their poison seeds and burn them or force the poison down their ugly greedy throats.

10:09AM PST on Dec 15, 2013

As others have noted & commented before my comment, this article needs better editing to more clearly express the writer's intent[s], as well as where it was supposed to go.

I've spent fifty years in agriculture & horticulture, and even though I'm nearly 71, I will live to see the current GMO insanity collapse, just as I lived through the BS of the 'Green Revolution' that was started in 1958, two yrs before my graduation from Bellevue, WA HS in 1960.

Even then at age 17, it seemed to me that there were grave uncertainties as to how this was to be accomplished, such as the incredible amounts of synthetic fertilisers that were called for world-wide, even in nations that lacked the industrial capacity to create them. If this was something a 17 yr old HS graduate could see, why not the media that were promoting it?

For the same reasons as today's presstitutes fail to present the truth: they were bought out long ago by the corporate masters they serve. That's what fascism is all about, even in food, and most especially in factory-style farming.

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