We grow corn and soybeans. We’ve used genetically modified crops that benefit our farm since they were introduced 20 years ago. Specifically, we’ve adopted crops that are herbicide-resistant and produce the Bt protein. The herbicide-resistant crops allow us to use herbicide to kill weeds without hurting the crops. The Bt trait protects our corn by making it toxic to certain bugs, including all those pesky worms that can quickly and effectively destroy an entire field.
Unfortunately, biotechnology has taken quite a beating in public perception. We’ve seen activists’ smear campaigns disseminating misinformation. The most ridiculous claim is that farmers don’t want to plant these crops; they’re forced to grow them. But we’ve adopted this technology voluntarily. And one reason is the environmental benefits for our farm.
Here are a few of them:
We Use Less Herbicides.
Weeds are a big deal. Farmers are always fighting them because their presence can have decrease yields. Before herbicide-resistant crops were available, the only option for weed control was to try to kill them before the crop was planted. Once the crop was planted and started growing, weed-control options were quite limited. Farmers sometimes had to use harsher chemicals to deal with hardier weeds. Herbicide-resistant crops have made weed control much easier with a safer product. We also use less herbicide on our crops because one application is usually enough.
We Use Zero Insecticides.
Thanks to genetically modified crops, we no longer apply any insecticide to our corn crop. That’s right: it’s been over 20 years since we sprayed insecticides. Before GMOs, insecticide was a very important crop-protection tool. Now the Bt trait protects the corn from insects that can (almost literally) chew through an entire field. And the Bt protein only kills certain pests. It doesn’t bother other beneficial insects. So not only have we stopped using insecticides, we are able to protect the good bugs, too.
Conservation Tillage is More Easily Adopted.
Conservation tillage allows farmers to leave the residue from the previous year’s crops in the field without having to plow or disturb the soil before planting for the next year. This is a really important tool for farmers because it can drastically increase soil health. And soil health is key for using fewer farm inputs and achieving higher yields. Herbicide-resistant crops make it much easier to adopt conservation tillage practices because weeds are more easily controlled. So we don’t have to prep a field for weed control and planting.
We Have Less Carbon Emissions.
Tractors have to burn fuel to get across the fields. That means every time we have to apply herbicides or insecticides, we have to run the tractor up and down the field burning fossil fuels. And that contributes to climate change. With the adoption of genetically engineered crops, we are able to make fewer passes across the field. The result is a smaller carbon footprint.
In fact, recent research found that if no GMO crops were grown in 2018, an additional 23 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide would’ve made its way into the atmosphere. That’s equivalent to an additional 15.3 million cars on the road!
Despite what consumers may have heard, genetically modified crops have provided a lot of environmental benefits for family farmers. We are definitely happy to use them!