Message to the NY Times: Farmers Choose to Plant GM Crops Because They Are Delivering Benefits

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I don’t tell reporters at the New York Times how to write their articles. Maybe they should consider not telling me how to run my farm.

That was my first thought after reading a long article in the October 29 edition of the newspaper, headlined: “Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops.”

The folks at the New York Times may have their doubts, but I have a message from the real world of agriculture: GM crops are delivering benefits. I’ve been growing GM corn and soybeans for 20 years—which is more than half of my adult life as a farmer—and I’m still in awe of this technology.

I’m hardly alone in this belief. Farmers everywhere choose to plant GM crops because they deliver what they say they will. It doesn’t matter if we operate large farms in the United States or Brazil, or if we’re small-time cotton growers in Burkina Faso or India: Wherever GM crops are available, farmers choose them in overwhelming numbers.  Over 90% of U.S. corn and soybean acres are GM crops.

We don’t choose them because they’re cool. We don’t choose them because seed companies make us. And we certainly don’t choose them because they’re cheap.  It is a voluntary choice and a sound business decision when farmers choose GM crops.

The New York Times seems to think that we choose them because we’re stupid. It claims that we’re missing a “basic problem,” and that we’re wrong to believe GM crops increase yield or reduce pesticide use.

I suppose it’s possible that the New York Times is right—and that millions of farmers around the world, toiling to grow commodities as different as soybeans and sugar beets and papayas, are all wrong. Maybe a bunch of Manhattan-bound journalists know better that we do.

But I doubt it.

The New York Times cites its own “extensive examination” of data. I prefer to draw from personal experience.

Like so many farmers, we’re always experimenting on our farm. Every year, we are trying new seed varieties and practices on a limited number of acres to see what is working, trying to minimize our expenses and maximize our yields while protecting the resources needed to grow crops. We did this the first year we tried GM crops, testing them on a small number of acres at first.  Initially, GM crops had to prove their value to us. This is our own “extensive examination”, performed season after season in a quest to always do better.

So let me offer an example from last year, when we planted about 3,000 acres of corn. Mostly we chose to grow GM corn, because we’ve had such great success with it. But we also wanted to see how the latest GM corn compares with the latest non-GM varieties, so we set aside about 250 acres for non-GM corn.

My instincts were that the GM corn would outperform the non-GM corn. But you never know until you try, and I like to keep an open mind. I never want to become set in my ways. Besides, if non-GM corn were to show an ability to compete with GM corn, I’d like to know—because I could save a lot of money on seeds.

When the harvest came in, the result was clear. The acres with GM corn produced an average of more than 150 bushels. The acres with non-GM corn were far behind, with about 100 bushels per acre.

The scientist in me must acknowledge caveats. It’s possible, for example, that we selected a lousy kind of non-GM corn and that another type would have done better. Perhaps we picked a strain that wasn’t suited to our farm’s soil or climate.

Yet I don’t think so. We’ve experimented on our farm for nearly four decades—and in that time, we’ve become convinced that GM crops deliver benefits to us and consumers. They’ve not only boosted my yields and reduced our reliance on traditional crop-protection products, but they’ve also been good for the environment. Because of GM crops, we have been able to eliminate a number of tillage passes over our fields each year, saving fuel and wear and tear on machinery.  Not needing to drive our tractors as much as we once did means we’re emitting fewer greenhouse gases and leaving a smaller carbon footprint.

That’s my story. I suspect millions of other farmers have their own versions. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t flock to GM crops as they do.

The next time the New York Times reports on agriculture, it should do a better job of making sure that the news it prints includes the views of the people who grow the crops: Our nation’s farmers!

Terry Wanzek
WRITTEN BY

Terry Wanzek

Terry Wanzek is a fourth generation North Dakota farmer. This family partnership raises spring wheat, corn, soybeans, barley, dry edible beans and sunflowers. Terry was elected to serve as a North Dakota State Senator, providing leadership to the agriculture committee and serving as Senate President Pro Tempore.
Terry volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network and continues to provide leadership to the National Association of Wheat Growers and the NoDak Mutual Insurance. He has a degree in Business Administration and Accounting from Jamestown College and completed the Texas A & M Executive Program for Agricultural Producers.

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5 thoughts on “Message to the NY Times: Farmers Choose to Plant GM Crops Because They Are Delivering Benefits

  1. Senator did not throw any reply, numbers, to the horrendous increase in poisons used in GM farming. If he loses his sit he may become a lobbyist.

  2. In Australia, we have reduced chemical sprays (poisons, as per Frederico’s response) in cotton by over 85% with GM cotton. Startling in anyone’s language. and we have now done it for 20 years.
    And we have been told for 20 years, ‘just wait, you will see the disastrous outcomes of your actions!’ How long must we wait?
    At least while we are waiting we are farming more sustainably and more environmentally friendly, and growing more food and fibre more affordably to feed the world’s ever growing population.
    Many people, Including leading journalists, seem to miss the point that we now all spend a smaller percentage of our income of food than we ever have, and we have the luxury of being able to waste more than we ever have done in the history of mankind.
    This is not an accident of nature, it has come about by experimentation by farmers like Terry Wanzek, and by farmers worldwide embracing new technology. Technology such as zero till, tramlining, and GM crops.
    I would like to respectfully suggest that those people who have such influence on public opinion (like New York Times journalists and opinion piece writers) should canvas real farmers on real farms producing real nourishing mainstream food that everyone in the world can afford before publishing articles that may appeal to those affluent people with no understanding of agricultural production in the real world.
    Articles that everyone in the world of agriculture (food production) know to be based on populist, disconnected, utopian and uneducated views of large scale food production in the modern world.

  3. No till farming enviromentally friendy agriculture has been happening in the Yucatan peninsula 4,000 years, in a fully organic way. Studies by Benbrook and others, show that glyphosate use in GM fields is 200% higher than 1996 and now add Dicamba. BT GMOs are reported to change the soil microbiota, 25 years is not enough, 200 year later we can see man made CO2 increases in atmosphere, so your argument does not hold from a history time perspective. Certainly the price of food is cheaper, but there are lot of externalities that will become costs in other fields: health, future generations water cleaning and so on, we have to take a full view of the impacts. GM soy is not a substantial equivalent, it has less protein, less fat, no glutation and a lot of dangerous formaldehyde. Glyphosate residues in cotton, did FDA or equivalent authorities ever imagined how the skin would react to that? We eat more glyphosate than we can imagine. We all probably would prefer to pay more expensive fully healthy and nourishing food.

    First generation GMOs Herbicide Resistant can confidently be called convenient technology for industrial agriculture, but junk technology from a sustainability point of view, look at pollinators and that means bigger losses in food production that those you wish us to recognize.

    Probably farmers should not be the driving force opinion, consumers and planet health, would you agree?

  4. Hi Federico. I’m not sure of your background, experience or qualifications. However I have been working in Agribusiness for 25years and from a 5th generation farming family so I figure I am qualified to make a couple of points on your reply which is missing some key information.

    The reason that the use of glyphosate has increased is directly linked to direct application in GM crops – that is not disputed as it is a key component that works together with the seed variety used by the farmer. Previously there was limited use of glyphosate only as a pre-sowing knockdown herbicide, rather than an in-crop herbicide treatment. The key benefit has been an added selective herbicide tool for farmers who previously struggled with effective weed control using older selective herbicide technology. Of course in using glyphosate the use of other herbicides has at the same time decreased.

    A second but arguably more significant benefit of GM crops has been the massive reduction in the use of insecticides, many of which were far less selective than the current in-seed technology expressed from the Bt proteins. As Jeff mentioned above, this has been really significant. In Australian cotton prior to launch of GM varieties in mid 1990’s I recall up to 20 sprays per season for heliothis alone. Now it’s more like 1 or 2 for secondary pests such as whitefly (Jeff can confirm). This same trend applies for other GM crops such as corn, soybeans and canola.

    Regarding your claims on skin sensitivity to Glyphosate, or linkage between GM crops and pollinators, I would be interested to see your peer-reviewed sources for this claim. Regarding bees the industry is focused on addressing the complex issue of bee colony collapse and the impact of the Varroa Destructor mite.

    In terms of carbon footprint, agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, both through cropping and livestock production. We need ongoing research efforts to innovate in this area. Farmers are in the business of farming, but they are also passionate about protecting their land. Installing refugia, adopting minimum/zero tillage to improve soil health and reduce carbon footprint, maintaining cover crops to reduce soil erosion in summer, investing in latest seeds machinery and chemical technologies to improve application accuracy and reduce environmental impact. Farmers can list many initiatives they use to protect their farms. Why? Because if they don’t, they don’t have a sustainable future.

    GM crops are not the panacea, but they are part of the solution. Like the NY Times, I encourage you to take the time to talk with farmers and learn more about what they do.

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