Friday, October 26, 2012

A Farmer’s Thoughts on GM

I’ve given a lot of thought to the current biotechnology battle happening in California over the labeling of genetically-modified (GM) foods.On Election Day Californians will be voting YES or NO on Prop 37, which would require mandatory labeling of any food product that contains GM ingredients.

Why label?

I really have two different sets of thoughts swirling around my head on the topic. The first goes to the question of, “Is labeling necessary?” Now, I believe that you should eat whatever food you think is right for your family. Anyone inspecting my freezer and pantry might wonder why a farmer, a member of a group that generally supports all types of commercially grown food products, has no chicken in her house.

I know, Delmarva readers, shame on me! But it’s really a very simple answer – my husband hunts, so we have the freezer stocked with fresh venison, and one of our friends raises beef cows, so we have eighty pounds of beef in our freezer as well. Quite frankly, we don’t have room in the house for any more meat.

Currently, we have traditionally grown mushrooms sharing a crisper with organic spinach. Why? Well, those two particular items looked the best the last time I went grocery shopping. We also have a fifty pound bag of sweet potatoes in our pantry (and, oddly enough, a huge box of them in our dining room). We had a bumper crop of sweet potatoes from our own garden this year. They are definitely the most local item in the house, grown about fifty feet from my front door.

What’s my point? Eat what you like. I have absolute faith that any GM products I buy are safe and healthy for my family. But if you are uncomfortable with that statement, you have a choice! If you are trying to avoid GM foods, just buy products with the “USDA-Certified Organic” label. Using that organic label means that the food was grown without any GM.

So why, California, would you want to set up a separate system for GM labeling, when that designation is already included in the current organic labeling system? I think it raises a good question. Since a labeling system is already in place, does anyone really benefit? Or is this another way to attack what many activists have labeled “Big Ag”?

Why GM?

But why do farmers use GM products in the first place? I can’t speak for every farmer in the country, but I can certainly speak for my family.

One of the biggest benefits of GM crops is that we are able to be very selective with the pesticides and herbicides we use. If some insect-resistant and herbicide-resistant traits were not already present in the seed we plant, we would have to apply chemicals to our fields more often in order to achieve the same results. Not only is this more costly to the farmer (and leads to more expensive food in the grocery store), but limiting our chemical use is better for our environment as well.

Another benefit is that GM crops have helped us increase our yields. We lose fewer crops to insects and disease than we may have ten or fifteen years ago, because some of the GM traits in our crops protect against those blights.

What does that mean for everyone else? It means that biotechnology helps farmers keep food costs down – which translate to the low prices you are able to enjoy at your local grocery.

What happens now?

Honestly? I don’t know! I’m not sure anyone knows for sure. I do know that Californians have a big decision to make. It’s my opinion that requiring GM labeling is redundant, as the USDA Organic label already addresses that aspect of how crops are grown. I also believe that it will be a costly decision, with the bulk of the cost being paid by the end consumer at the grocery store.

Remember, this is just my opinion, There are a ton of opinions on the topic. I encourage you to do your own research – looking for reputable, non-biased research firms that have been studying GM crops for decades now. Agriculture has a track record of adopting new technologies based on sound science. The way we do things has definitely changed from the farms of 50 years ago, but our commitment to doing what is right for our families and the families we feed remains as strong as ever.

I want to leave you with this great snapshot of the benefits of biotechnology, put together by an organization I am proud to be a part of, CommonGround.

Biotech infograph

Friday, October 5, 2012

Continuing the Tradition

Last week, I attended our county’s annual Farm Bureau banquet, where my family was honored as the Kent County Farm Family of the Year.

bullock family

The introduction the Farm Bureau leaders gave included some interesting info – they mentioned that this side of my family has been farming in our county since the early 1900s. My research into census records list my great-grandfather as living on the same street (and likely the same block) as my childhood home. Further digging into our history revealed that my ancestors identified themselves as “farmers” going back at least 150 years. If that’s not a tradition of farming, I don’t know what is.

Going through all this history made me think about all the changes to the farming industry over the last several decades. Back in 1960, when my grandparents were farming, the average US farmer could feed 26 people. Now, our farm is feeding six times that. And since 85% of Americans are at least two generations removed from the farm, it’s going to be necessary in the next few decades to continue increasing the number of people each farmer can feed.

We are able to feed more people because of huge jumps in technology and education. Thanks to bigger, more efficient equipment, and selective seed breeding programs, farmers are able to produce more crops on less land. Take corn, for example. According to numbers from the USDA Census of Ag, farmers today are producing about five times as much corn as they did in the 1930s. And they are growing that corn on 20 percent less land!*

Many members of the current generation of my family are still farming. My Uncle “M” operates a cattle and grain farm, following closely in the footsteps of my grandfather. My Uncle “R” had a poultry operation until his passing just a couple of years ago. My father no longer farms, but he has been an agri-science teacher and FFA advisor for at our local high school for 30 years.

And there are a few farmers in the younger generation, too. My cousin “A” married into a local farm family with a dairy, poultry, and grain operation. Her youngest sister “M” raises and shows market lambs and hogs. My youngest sister, Amber, is preparing to graduate this winter with a degree in AgBusiness. She probably won’t be farming, per se, but wants a career in agriculture.

And then there’s me. Not only is my job as an ag lender directly involved with the farming community, but I also married a farmer. We own a small grain farm just five short miles from what most of my father’s family would consider the “home farm.”

Last, we have our youngest generation – the current great-grandchildren. Will they continue the farming tradition? It’s too early to tell.

Though based on his current fascination with all things tractors and farming, odds are pretty good that my kid will be a farmer.


*As found on