BURLEY, Idaho — With many people still opposed to agricultural biotechnology, a proponent says that farmers need to take stewardship of the technology that more efficiently produces safe food.
Biotechnology “produces food; it doesn’t change the food,” said Rupert, Idaho, farmer Duane Grant, chairman of the Snake River Sugar Co. and a national biotech spokesman for the U.S. sugar industry.
Biotech crops benefit farmers, consumers and the environment, and the introduction of GMO sugar beets saved the industry from extinction. That industry represents 40 percent of U.S. sugar consumption, Grant said at the 2014 Idaho Hay and Forage conference on Feb. 28.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, sugar beet farmers were suffering from weed resistance to chemicals. The herbicides were working less and less in controlling weeds, and growers could no longer afford to fight the weeds, he said.
Conventional sugar beet seedlings can’t compete with weeds, and Amalgamated Sugar became the leader in pushing for biotech access for growers.
Today, the U.S. sugar beet industry is essentially 100 percent biotech, he said.
Technology makes the U.S. sugar beet industry competitive with the rest of the world. It is a core competency the industry needs to recognize and be able to defend, he said.
“We need to be stewards of this technology because it brings real value. We love it because it works,” he said.
Stewardship of biotechnology in agriculture goes beyond sugar beets, and farmers, agricultural organizations and biotech providers need to embrace all approved ag technologies, he said.
Stewardship means leading the public, regulatory and commercial discussion, and farmers have to be willing to speak out, he said.
“There is no more powerful stewardship than the 1 percent of us who knows what goes on out in the field,” he said.
It also means using best management practices in GMO crop production, knowing customers and giving them choices, he said. If the customer doesn’t want GMO crops and is willing to pay for non-GMO, point them to another source, he said.
Stewardship is also acknowledging the value of biotechnology and being willing to pay the biotech provider for the innovation, research and development, until the patent is expired, he said.
Farmers are adopting biotechnology because it works. It increases yields and decreases the use and cost of pesticides. It also enables the use of conservation tillage, he said.
The enemy of a productive farm is erosion, and a farmer can’t practice no-till unless he switches to biotech, herbicide-tolerant crops. “No-till sustainable farming” is what should be on food labels for food produced from GMO crops, he said.
Food produced from GMO crops is safe and exactly the same as food from conventional crops, except in the cases where it offers more nutrition. The World Health Organization has found zero illness of any type attributable to GMOs foods worldwide in the last 16 years, he said.
Not only are growers producing safe food with better yields, they’re sharing the benefits of biotechnology with biotech firms, seed dealers, and consumers, who capture a large majority of the benefit, he said.