One farmer adds balance to the public discussion about GMOs by sharing their sustainability benefits

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Related tags Agriculture

Contrary to what some may believe, farmers who grow genetically modified crops are “not the devil with horns,” and do have the planet’s and consumers’ health and best interests in mind when they select which seeds to plant and harvest, a Maryland farmer told attendees at USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum in Washington, DC, last month.

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. 

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Drinking the Kool Aid

Posted by John Biondi,

As a farmer, I don't think any other farmer is the 'devil with horns' but discussing an agriculture based on herbicide-tolerent GMOs as 'sustainable' is a complete abuse of the term. The data is clear that GMOs promote the increased use of herbicides over time, not a decreased use. The benefits of GMOs accrue strictly to the producer, not the consumer and certainly not to the environment. While I totally understand the need for all farmers to make a profit, the real profits of GMO-based agriculture accrue to the input producers like Monsanto and Syngenta, not to the farmer. The over- production of corn (because it is easy and holds out the promise of profits due to the high number of bushels per acre) has driven corn prices to a nearly all-time low with no relief in site for the near-term. The high-production requirements of GMO-based agriculture continue to drive small family farmers off the land and place more and more of America's food sources in the hands of large corporations. The Chairman of the American Corn Growers Association is hardly a news source regarding sustainability.

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Mineral poor GMO crops

Posted by farmer,

Unfortunately, the use of herbicides like RoundUp chelates minerals in the soil and in plants. That's why the weeds die- they starve. With the use of herbicides, the resultant commodity FOOD crops are also mineral poor, and lead to chronic diseases in the human end consumers. Mineral deficiencies in humans show up as cancer, allergies, autism, Alzheimers, atherosclerosis. Foods grown without herbicides, certified or not, don't have that mineral paucity.

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