Hundreds of protestors, many who’ve never been on an Iowa farm, are heading to our state next week to protest progress in farming. They don’t believe in genetically modified crops and no amount of peer-reviewed science or speeches from Nobel laureates will convince them otherwise. Just as they have the right to voice their opinions and be heard, the Iowa men and women who spend years in the field growing your food also hope you will hear their stories, and let common sense prevail.
That’s because for decades, these thousands of Iowa farmers have seen what progress in farming can do.
Paul Vassen has been growing corn and beans on his Delaware county farm since 1962. Although he’ll proudly admit being ‘old fashioned,’ he says there are some things that nostalgia can’t cure, like hunger.
“I don’t ‘think there’s any doubt in my mind that the genetic improvements that seed companies have developed have given us the opportunity to see greater yields, despite what Mother Nature can dish out. We can’t forget that feeding people is really what this is all about. Last year, for example, we were very dry and even though yields were not up to what we considered ‘normal’, they were much better than, say, 10 to 15 years ago when we had the same drought conditions, but didn’t have these great seeds that were more resistant to drought or pests.
Years ago we used planters with seeds in one box and insecticide in another, which meant we were using a lot more insecticide. I’m happy that old planter sits idle on my farm now, because our GMO seeds help us defeat pests like rootworm and corn borer,” says Vassen.
Roger Zylstra…a longtime corn, soybeans and hog farmer from Jasper County, has seen a lot of changes, too. If he can be more productive and more sustainable, he can also keep farming in the family, and that’s why he favors GMO crops. “The reality is we’re trying to build and grow for the future. My youngest son just came back full time to the farm. I work hard to build a sustainable farm for his return and only innovation helps us do that.”
Innovation has brought incredible progress to Iowa farms. Between 1980 and 2010, U.S. farmers nearly doubled corn production, yet thanks to better seeds, better equipment and conservation practices, are using less fertilizer than they put on the ground, back with Zylstra and Vassen first got started farming all those years ago. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), farmers grew 6.64 billion bushels of corn using 3.9 pounds of nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) for each bushel in 1980. Just a couple years ago, that yield busted the bins at 12.45 billion bushels, using 1.6 pounds of nutrients per bushel produced. I’m no math genius, but by any assessment, that’s more than an 87 percent increase. How many other industries can claim that?
When you look at the science, the numbers, the sustainability that GM crops bring and meet the men and women who grow your food, it’s hard to swallow the hysteria that the ‘anti’ crowd is selling. Young farmers just getting started believe it’s the ‘disconnect’ that folks may have today with farmers; they just haven’t met one. Colin Johnson is a young family farmer from Wapello county who grows corn, soybeans and hay. He says the farmers growing food today have more in common with folks asking the questions than many realize. Knowledge-seeking is a good thing, so long as both sides are sought out. “Of course GMO is safe. Of course it’s all about feeding more people, but the bottom line for me is that as a family farmer with young kids, I’m not going to put anything in the ground that’s not safe for us, or our environment. We’re eating this food, too,” says Johnson.
Progress has brought us safer cars, cell phone coverage in the country, the internet, and countless improvements in the fields of health care and fitness. Progress has also brought consumers more choices at the grocery store and that includes healthier choices from GMO food: fortified with calcium, vitamin A, and other vitamins and minerals. Providing choices is what keeps farmers moving forward. “The farming practices we’ve used, the no-till and everything, it’s a great advance from where we were. I have no doubt we will continue to move forward. That’s what we do,” says Zylstra.
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau. 10/11/2013