Minnesota Farmer

Modified, from my side of the fence

OK, so here’s my opinion about GMO’s. but first ….

To help you understand where my opinions come from, you need to know a bit about me.  I’m 59 and have never wanted to do anything other than farming.  Yes, I do have a few non farm hobbies, but farming is my main business.  My dad is 83 and refuses to slow down, he is active off farm in the ethanol industry.  I have a degree from the University of Minnesota in Animal Science, but took as many crop science classes as I could.  At one time I sold seed for two different companies, one no longer exists, and the other is still going, independently from any other company.  I’m an avid reader, but have become bored with most of the farm press because they are telling me nothing new.  I read Time Magazine and National Geographic cover to cover, every issue.  I get most of my network news from the radio, preferring a local ABC affiliate.  I watch science shows on PBS whenever I can.  I have been active in the Republican party but have not been happy with their slant for over 20 years now.  I am currently active in the Evangelical Lutheran Church and The Farm Bureau.

Dad and I farm about 750 acres in Southwestern Minnesota.  At one time we got half of our income from hogs, but now are only crop farmers.  According to University data we should be farming 2000 acres to earn a decent living, but are happy with what we have.  In our area we are small farmers.  My mother has never worked off of the farm, and my wife is recently retired after teaching kindergarten.

When the first GMO’s came to the farm we called them Roundup Ready Soybeans.  They were soybean plants that has been breed to withstand being sprayed with Roundup herbicide, otherwise known a glyphosate.  Roundup was a Monsanto product unlike any previously seen weed killer.  We had been using it spot spraying weeds in soybeans for many years.  Soybeans had a tolerance to a low dose of Roundup already, but adding the Roundup Ready gene allowed us to spray the whole field and kill off only the weeds.  Some broadleaf weeds needed more Roundup than others, but grasses were dead, fast.

I was a bit slow to jump on the Roundup Ready bandwagon.  Yes, Roundup killed weeds better than anything else available at the time, but the yield was not there in the first years.  Later as Roundup Ready Soybeans got better and Roundup Ready corn was introduced it was easier to move to an all glyphosate program.

From the very beginning, Monsanto told us not to use only Roundup.  They had also seen the weeds that were harder to kill with Roundup.  Monsanto added different types of additives to make glyphosate work better, but they kept warning us that if farmers used only glyphosate we would be seeing weeds that would adjust and would no longer be killed by glyphosate.


Now Monsanto has discovered that if you move the glyphosate tolerance gene to a different place on the DNA of a soybean plant it will give you more yield.  Adding more bushels to the acre makes Roundup Ready 2 Yield Soybeans more attractive.

The addition of glyphosate tolerance to corn was a major change in the corn plant.  Corn, maize, is a grass, and glyphosate is deadly to all grasses.  Now farmers had to add another herbicide to their mix to get rid of corn that showed up in other crops in the following years.

One of the most important changes to the corn plant and several other crops was when they learned how to get the plants to make their own insecticide.  Now we have Bt corn.  Bt is the common abbreviation for a naturally occurring bacteria Bacillus thuringienus that is found in the soil. A unique feature of this bacterium is its production of crystal like proteins that selectively kill specific groups of insects. These crystal proteins are insect stomach poisons that must be eaten to kill the insect. Bt insecticides have been used for over 60 years and are considered safe to non-target organisms. However, because it is a “natural” product it is unstable and short-lived.  Problems have been occurring in some areas where Bt corn has been overused.  Some insects have become immune to Bt.  The solution turns out to be an easy one, plant a different crop.

There are other advantages to planting some types of GM crops for the farmer, but all of them must be used in moderation.  Nature will always figure out a way around any defense that is developed.  Many farm folks have learned that a too much of a good thing is good initially, but bad in the long run.  It is all part of the cycle of nature.  If there are a lot of one thing, something else will figure out a way to use it.  No modification of plant or animal is without risk.

OK, I expect to do one more in this series unless I get a lot of questions that take me off on a new track.




2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Michael, I have been enjoying the series! Thanks a lot for taking the time to write your thoughts out. If you don’t mind, I would love to know, in a future post what types of traits you are interested in for the future.

Comment by Janice aka JPlovesCOTTON

Now I have to write one more. Thanks for the idea!

Comment by Michael

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