Chip Bowling, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association, explained that many politicians, environmental law advocates and EPA and USDA officials visit his farm in Newburg, Md., with a preconception that “I am the devil with horns and do things that don’t make sense, do things that hurt the environment because I use GMOs.”
He said this is a preconception shared by many Americans in part because some anti-GMO and GMO labeling advocates have aggressively delivered only one side of the GMO story, and he encourages farmers, ranchers and those who work with GMOs to raise their voices and tell the other side of the story.
He does this on his farm by taking visitors “on a walk on the conservation side of GMOs,” he says. And, he adds, by the time they leave they have a better understanding of why he and others farm GMO crops.
GMOs support sustainable farming practices
One of the major reasons Bowling tells visitors he uses GMOs is because they have allowed him to adopt sustainable farming practices that also allow him to make a profit – two sides of the same coin that are essential for him to continue farming.
“Because of GMOs, I have reduced my use of pesticides. I have reduced my use of herbicides, and it is hard to imagine, but if and when I need to use pesticides there is a product that I can use just 2 ounces of … that covers an acre of land,” he said, adding, “most people don’t know that … and they can’t believe that just that little bit of product works.”
In addition, the switch to GMO crops allowed Bowling to adopt conservation till practices, which he said, “help build up the soil and ease erosion and soil loss. In exchange, we get cleaner air, water and healthier soil.”
Specifically, he said that since 2006 when efforts were enacted to clean up the nearby Chesapeake Bay, he has decreased soil erosion by 57% and sediment loss by 63%, thanks in part to GMOs and the use of cover crops, which have tripled in the time period.
“Twenty-five years ago, when I was younger – a lot younger – we used to plow every acre of land. Now we plow nothing. Everything is no till and that is because the use of GMOs allowed us to do that,” Bowling said.
He also noted that by using GMO crops he has reduced nitrogen loss by 38% and phosphorus loss by 45%, which he says, “are amazing numbers.”
Previously all of these elements – soil, nitrogen and phosphorus – would drain into the river near his farm where he crabs, fishes and hunts and where his children play.
“There is nothing that I am going to do as a farmer that is going to negatively affect that river,” including planting GMO crops, and “most farmers feel the same way,” he said.
He said he hopes that by opening his farm to visitors and discussing transparently how and why he uses GMOs that the public’s perception of the agricultural technology will become more balanced. But for this strategy to be most effective, he notes, other farmers and ranchers also must talk transparently about their use of GMOs and the benefits they provide not just for the farmer, but for the planet and public.