Thank You – From Iowa to Hawaii


I had a similar experience a few years ago when biotech soybeans came onto the market. Before they arrived, I can’t tell you how many hot summer days I spent hand-pulling weeds in my bean fields. We used to hire as many kids as we could get our hands on and spend whole summers protecting our crops.

Some people considered it back-breaking labor. For me, though, it was knee-wrecking. At the age of 33, I was considering knee-replacement surgery because my young bones couldn’t put up with the grinding work. Then biotech soybeans came along and saved my health—eliminating the need to “walk the beans” as we soybean farmers call it.

That’s why I want to say “thank you” to the people of Hawaii for their vital role in agricultural biotechnology, which is making a huge impact on the lives of mainland farmers.

I read the newspapers and know that biotechnology is under assault in Hawaii. Just the other day I learned of a lawsuit filed against the state government by anti-science activists whose ultimate goal is to kick biotechnology off the islands.

This is incredibly shortsighted, because biotechnology is a fundamental part of our future–in Hawaii and everywhere. What’s more, Hawaii’s unique climate allows for outstanding kinds of corn and soybean seed research – with state and federal oversight – that can’t occur anywhere else in the United States. As a result, agricultural biotechnology has become a significant sector of the Hawaiian economy, which needs to rely on more than just tourism dollars if it’s going to thrive.

A lot of Hawaiians already know this, and I trust that Hawaiian farmers will continue to remind their neighbors how important biotechnology is to them–a classic case of doing well by doing good. Even here in Iowa, we’ve heard the story of how biotechnology saved Hawaii’s papaya industry from a terrible bout with the deadly ringspot virus a few years back.

I hope Hawaiians also appreciate how much their fellow Americans depend on them as well.

Just as my parents were grateful for the engineers who designed the first affordable tractors and the assembly-line workers who built them, I feel a deep sense of debt to the Hawaiian public for letting biotechnology thrive. I could go on about my “now good” knees, but that isn’t really the point. Because of biotech crops, farmers everywhere are seeing their yields go up and their lifestyles improving, having more time to spend with families and much less time in the fields. That’s good for everybody.

The environment is another beneficiary. By making agriculture more productive, we’re able to keep more open spaces and conserve more soil. In the developing world, governments face intense pressure to feed growing populations by converting rainforests into cropland. Biotechnology allows existing fields to produce greater amounts of food. Indeed, agricultural biotechnology is on its way to becoming a cornerstone of conservation strategy in the 21st century.

The next generation of biotech crops will be about more than yields, weed and pest control, and the environment–it will be about human health. Cutting-edge researchers are now looking at crops that can help us live longer and healthier by lowering our cholesterol and keeping our hearts in good shape. It sounds like science fiction, but soon it will be science fact – and Hawaii is playing a major role.

There’s a lot of hysterical rhetoric in Hawaii about the supposed menace of genetically modified crops. The people making these arguments are exactly wrong, because there’s never been any evidence anywhere showing that biotech crops are bad for anybody. They are deceiving people and instilling unnecessary fear.

I don’t mean to sound like a guy in a white lab jacket. I’m an ordinary farmer in Iowa. What I can say from direct personal experience is that biotechnology has improved my life as a farmer and an American. The future is even more promising. I know that Hawaii is playing an important part in all of this, and I hope the sensible people of Hawaii will keep it that way.

For now, however, I’d just like to say one thing: Thank you Hawaii.

Tim Burrack

Tim Burrack

Tim grows corn, seed corn, soybeans and produces pork. Has been very involved with Mississippi River lock improvements and has traveled to Brazil to research their river, rail and road infrastructure changes. Tim volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network.

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