GMO’s: How we Feed the World

In the blazing summer sun, the rumbling combine furiously cuts across the wheat fields.  The crop this year is rich, one of the best we’ve cut in a long time.  The wheat we are cutting is called Hard Red Winter Wheat, which is considered a GMO crop.  Though “GMO” has been portrayed as a scary word within the last few years, I am here to assure you that the fear mongering on behalf of the Anti-GMO advocates is completely unwarranted.  GMO crops are plants that have been altered genetically to better suit conditions in the plants environment and life-span.  GMO’s are not dangerous or alarming ,they are beneficial to producers and consumers alike.  Just like we work vigorously to cut a bumper crop and harvest it in the best and most efficient way possible, we too try to provide the most nutritious yet effective source of food to the American consumer.

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Our Hard Red Winter Wheat, about a month before harvest.

Within the last decade, public awareness and concern for where their food comes from has dramatically risen.  One of the bigger issues the consumer has brought forth is the production and consumption of genetically modified organisms or GMO’s.  I believe one of the things that has caused public fear in regards to genetic modification is how it can affect our bodies and health.  Truth be told, no one has ever died from consuming genetically modified foods (shocker!).  Genetic modification is not unhealthy for people or animals alike.  The studies that have shown GMO’s having negative side-effects such as tumors in lab rats, have since been disproven (source).  There has been a significant amount of testing done on GMO’s and how they impact not only our food source, but our health as well, that have consistently proved there is nothing harmful about them.  Trust me, farmers and ranchers eat all of the food that they grow, too! We don’t want to put anything into our bodies that would be harmful to it as much as you don’t.  That being said, when you do the research, and look at the scientific evidence backing GMO foods, you’ll realize that not only are they nothing to worry about in regards to our health, but they are also the most efficient, eco-friendly, and reliable means of mass-producing crops to nourish the demands of our growing population.

Not only do conventional methods of crop production provide an equally delicious and nutritious source of food for the American consumer, conventional farming is far more sustainable and environmentally friendly than organic farming practices.  Agriculture already accounts for a large amount of deforestation in the world.  We use 1/3 of the Earth’s land for agricultural purposes (source).  With organic farms producing far less than a conventional farm and organic farming requiring more land to produce on,  trying to sustain a food source for a growing nation and world on organic farming is counterproductive.  It would lead to an increase in deforestation and cause a greater environmental impact than conventional farming (source).  As for the use of pesticides,  with genetically modified crops, farmers are able to use LESS pesticides!  The use of Roundup has been greatly critiqued by anti-GMO advocates.  In actuality, Roundup is far less toxic than the earlier used pesticide, atrazine (source).  Not only are we able to use less pesticides and safer pesticides thanks to GMO crops, we also increase our crop yields by doing so!  Along with the use of pesticides, there has also been concern about the use of fertilizers and how they leach into the ground water.  Conventional farming practices water and fertilize simultaneously through irrigation systems (source).  By doing this, the plants are given appropriate amounts of fertilizer according the the demands per growing season.  Unlike this conventional farming practice, organic farms use composted fertilizer which is not released according to the demand of the plant.  Being that the fertilizer is not released according to plant demand, there is a significant leaching of nitrate into the soil and groundwater (source).  I don’t know about you, but last time I checked, contamination of groundwater is not sustainable or environmentally-friendly.  At the end of the day, conventional farming is more equip to cater to the environment, creates larger yields, is more sustainable, is far more efficient, and uses less water than organic farming!

As not only a producer, but as a wife as well, I understand the importance of providing a safe, reliable, and nutritious source of food to the public and to my family.  Farmers are the most passionate about providing the highest quality produce to the consumer as possible.  Conventional farming practices are perfectly safe, healthy, and are far more economic than organic farming practices.  The truth is, we can’t feed the demand of a growing nation and world on organic farms.  The only way we can produce enough food in the most efficient way possible is through GMO crops.  GMO’s are a means of increasing yields and efficiency, they are not an added ingredient to be feared.  All genetic modification does is allow farmers to do their jobs better and provide enough nutrition for everyone in the cheapest way possible.  As we harvest our wheat in the heat of the July sun, we smile knowing our high-yields will better contribute to the ever-growing demand for food.  Without GMO’s, we would never be able to produce a high-quality crop in a dry climate.  Do the research, know the facts, and learn about the benefits of genetic modification and why it is so paramount to our farming practices. GMO’s are not frightening, they are how we feed the world.

The TRUTH about Ethics and Livestock

As June comes to a close, the afternoons fill with ominous storm clouds and the chance of hail and heavy rain lingers over the precious wheat fields.  Every time the darkness rolls over the blue skies of the eastern plains, a faint panic falls over the farmers in concern for their ever-so-close to harvest crop.  Don’t get me wrong, rain is ALWAYS more than welcomed in a high-desert climate, but the prospect of hail ruining a years worth of work in the field is always frightening.  Just as we try so desperately to save the wheat and reap a bountiful harvest from year to year, we also fight passionately to keep our way of life going from generation to generation.  With negative media attention on the rise and common misconceptions being spread about commercial livestock, I believe that these rumors need to be addressed from a first-hand perspective.  It is important that we know where our food comes from, but in a truthful way.  Without some sort of positive and truthful perspective from someone who actually works in production agriculture and works with livestock on a day to day basis, how do you know what you hear in the media is actually true?  The answer is, you don’t.  The only way you can truly know what goes on with commercial livestock and the treatment of them, is talking to someone who works with them.

In recent years, the negative media attention that agriculture has attracted has seemed to escalate rapidly.  I believe part of the problem is that many people that live in urban areas are so far removed from the farm that their views of farming and ranching practices are skewed.  The problem with media and agriculture is that the only media attention that agriculture gets is negative.  The fantastic, horrific stories of animal abuse and GMO’s are at the forefront of media attention in regards to our food supply.  I’m here to tell you the TRUTH about agriculture.  Yes, you cannot deny a video and you cannot deny that they have happened, but I can tell you that those instances of abuse are a blip in the agricultural universe (not to mention, most of these “conveyor belt chickens” and “pigs in cages” type videos you see, are not even  in the United States).  There is a saying in our industry, “if you take care of that cow, she’ll take care of you.”  Trust me, 99% of families in production agriculture take care of their livestock not just because it is ethical, but because we have to in order to make any sort of profit.  When livestock are not given proper nutrition, proper environmental conditions, or are not handled in the correct way, they will not be as healthy as they possibly can be.  Besides the fact that treating livestock in an ethical and safe way is the only way to be successful in production agriculture, we love and care for our animals above anything else in our lives; we put their needs before our own.  For example, during calving season two years ago, we had a string of very cold days and nights.  We ended up bringing upwards of 5 calves a day into our home in order to warm them up and ensure their well being.  I don’t know about you, but fighting off a mean mama cow and bringing basically “wild” animals (most production cattle,though not self-sufficient animals, are not domesticated pets) into your home to make absolute sure they are ok, is far from abuse and neglect.  What I’m getting at is, though these animals are used and bred as a food source, there is still a great need to care for them in the correct and ethical way; and rancher’s believe this above anyone else.

There is a deeply imbedded sense of responsibility farmers and ranchers feel to care for their land and livestock.  Without both of those things, we are unable to make a living and do what we do.  I do believe that it is ethical to use commercial livestock as a source of food, but it is our responsibility as producers to provide for them a healthy life while they are here.  Next time you see a video of abused livestock or read something that seems wrong in regards to treatment of livestock, ask someone in the industry.  It is hard to judge how livestock should be handled if you have never worked with livestock.  Handling a 1,500-2,000 pound animal is not as easy as it looks.  I can tell you one thing, criminalizing farmers and ranchers who do the right thing and provide a safe and reliable food source for the American consumer, is not the answer to awareness.  Just like any other industry, there are bad apples in the barrel, but just because there are one or two bad apples, do you trash the entire barrel?  No.  Next time you see a farmer or rancher, thank them for putting food on your table every day, instead of passing judgement based on false accusations.

As the summer storms roll in every afternoon and the lightening cracks across the skies, we hope and pray that our crop makes it to harvest.  Just as we hope to cut a bumper crop, we hope that through perseverance and talking about agriculture, we can preserve agricultures good name and show the consumer that we care deeply about our land and livestock.  I implore anyone who reads this, please educate yourself on where your food comes from, but do so from the CORRECT and TRUTHFUL sources without a political agenda.  Preserving agriculture for our generation is not just about preserving the land and breeding livestock, its about connecting to the consumer and educating the consumer about where our food comes from.