Genetically modified seed helps increase yields and lower prices

05/20/2014 3:16 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

In my role as president and general manager of Farmers Cooperative Company, a farmer-owned cooperative in Haviland, Kan., and as a Land O’ Lakes board member, I am concerned about the widespread attacks on our nation’s farmers because they choose to do something everyone does each day — use modern technology to increase productivity.

The benefits of modern technology for today’s farmers are as endless in agriculture as they are in any industry. Real-time communication and data collection are as essential to precision agriculture as they are to financial services, transportation, health care and more. Like others in Kansas, our farmers work more efficiently and effectively using smartphones, the Internet and GPS devices, which help them use fewer resources and leave a smaller footprint while producing more food on less land than we did just two generations ago. Back then, 20 percent of the population had a connection to production agriculture, and we spent about 25 percent of our income on food. Today, with less than 2 percent of the population connected to production agriculture, we spend less than 10 percent of our income on food.

Another important technological advancement available for our farmers is genetically modified (GM) seed. It’s important to note that the use of genetic modification in food has been in use for millennia, when early farmers began cross-breeding plants to deliver crops that had higher yields and different tastes. However, unlike cross-breeding in the fields, today’s GM seed is done in a lab and tested extensively.

Today, the majority of the corn and bean crops that are harvested started as GM seeds. This technology allows farmers to combine the best of technology with traditional farming practices and produce great results. My 1,200 farmer members have been using GM seeds to decrease water usage by reducing the need for pest and disease chemical control and implementing no-till farming.

Advancements that increase our yields and lower prices cannot be ignored in a country where 48 million people go to bed hungry every night. The droughts of the last two summers would have been far worse in Kansas — and the cost of groceries far higher — if farmers hadn’t had drought tolerant corn seed.

As a native of rural Kansas, an economic region that greatly depends on agriculture, I am puzzled by the misinformation about how farmers use technology to increase production. During my career in our agriculture cooperative system, I have seen firsthand how farmers are producing the safest, most affordable food in the world on the same amount of land their grandfathers used half a century ago.

Numerous scientific and regulatory bodies — including the FDA, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the American Medical Association — have concluded that food and beverages that contain GM ingredients are as safe as products that don’t.

Embracing technology doesn’t mean farmers have scientists in white lab coats in their barns, any more than using computers and smartphones means a finance professional has a research and development lab in his home office. Rather, it means farmers are using technology like every other American, to be more productive, to stay informed, to stay connected to work, shop, travel and eat. At Farmers Co-op of Haviland, farmers understand the challenge of feeding a growing population, and it’s a challenge we don’t take lightly.

Stan Stark, of Pratt, Kan., is Farmers’ Cooperative Company president and general manager, and Land O’ Lakes board member.

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