ur farm is in the western part of the state of Iowa in the mid-west of the United States of America. It was first farmed in 1880 when my husband’s great grandfather bought the land and started farming it.
Today, my husband Bill and I are the only workers on the farm and are responsible for all of the farm’s operations. We grow soybeans, maize and asparagus on nearly 400 hectares. For more than 40 years our farm has been managed using conservation practices such as buffer strips, managed grassland and contours. We look after our land. It is our livelihood. So we use the best practices and the best tools available. And biotechnology is one of those tools. Agricultural biotechnology is probably one of the most controversial technologies introduced to modern farming. Since 1996, when the first genetically modified crops were grown, there has been a constant bar-rage of opposition to the use of the technol-ogy. This opposition at times based on myths and misunderstanding, often ignores what is happening at farm level where the benefits of biotech crops – agronomic, economic and environmental - are enjoyed by farmers across the world. When it comes to biotech, farmers look on it as yet another tool. And their approach to adoption is similar to any other tool. If it works they will use it. If it doesn’t work they won’t use it. The results on adoption of the technol-ogy on the farm speak volumes. Earlier this year, the annual report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) reported that last year 18 million farmers across 27 countries grew biotech crops on more than 175 million hec- tares. Many of these farmers raise their crops on small farms, such as the seven million farmers in India who grew biotech cotton. The ISAAA report showed that from 1996 to 2012, biotech crops contributed to food security and sustainability by: “increas-ing crop production - valued at US$116.9 billion; providing a better environment, by saving 497 million kg of pesticides; reducing CO
emissions by 26.7 billion kg in 2012 alone – the equivalent to taking 11.8 million cars off the road for one year and conserving biodiversity by saving 123 million hectares of land”.
Most adopted biotech crop
Biotech soybeans are one of the most adopted crops with nearly 50 percent off all biotech crops grown in 2013. In the US, soybeans are grown across 29 states with more than half of total production being exported. In 2013, some 93 percent of total soy production of 82 million tonnes was biotech compared with just two percent in 1996 when biotech soybeans were first available. We first grew herbicide tolerant soy-beans on our farm in 1996 on a very small scale to see if the technology worked. It did. And we have been using it successfully ever since. In fact, since 1996 the technology has boosted US farm incomes by US$16.7 bil-lion with an average cost saving per hectare of US$45. Additionally, there has been a decrease in herbicide active ingredients of 27.6 million kgs resulting in a decrease in environmental impact of 22.2 percent..However, it’s not just US farmers who enjoy these benefits. I have been able to visit farms in Argentina and Brazil and farmers there have the same experience as us - which helps to explain why adoption of biotech soy is at 99 percent and 90 percent respectively in both countries.Like other crop farmers the world over, weeds are a fact of life on our farm. Having a technology that helps control weeds with-out harming the crop or the soil is one of the main reasons behind the high adoption rate of herbicide tolerant soybeans. These soybeans are genetically modified to be resistant to the complementary weed killer, for example glyphosate or glufosinate. Aside from weed control, one of the main advantages using herbicide tolerant soybeans for farmers such as my husband and me is being able to use no-till or con-servation tillage. This means we do not have to deep plow our land - a necessary part of conventional tillage to control weeds by basically turning the soil over and burying the weeds. This system is labor-intensive because after plowing, the soil needs further mechanical tillage requiring more field trips which also means more diesel fuel. Tillage also leads to soil erosion as the soil is broken down into particles which can be blown or washed away. Further, with conventional production the crop needs to be sprayed, often multiple times, with a number of dif-ferent chemicals, to control weeds. With no-till or conservation tillage, no deep plowing is necessary. Instead, we can use a burn-down herbicide application directly over the previous year’s crop residue to kill off any weeds. Soybean seeds are then sown directly into the ground through the old crop residue without disturbing other areas in the field. This crop residue will eventually break down into organic matter thus aiding soil health.
10 top facts
The top ten facts behind adoption of biotech soy production:1. Reduces time and labor: No-till and conservation tillage means fewer hours on a tractor and fewer labour hours to pay. For example, on our 400 hectare farm the time savings can be as much as 500 hours a year 2. Saves fuel: On our farm we have cut our diesel fuel use from 80 liters a hectare to 32 liters3. Reduces machinery requirements: Fewer trips save an estimated US$12 a hectare on machinery wear and maintenance costs. We also don’t need heavy cultivation equipment meaning capital cost savings. For example, our ‘youngest’ tractor is 25 years old4. Improves soil condition: A continuous no-till on conservation till system increases soil particle aggregation (small soil clumps) making it easier for plants to establish roots. Improved soil tilth also can minimize compaction. Compaction is also reduced by fewer trips across the field5. Increases organic matter: The breakdown of the previous year’s crop residue means increased organic matter in the soil. As a result we are continually building top soil. On our farm the soil’s organic matter has increased over the years we have been using biotech. Plus the land’s water holding capacity is improved because the earthworm population has not been disturbed through tillage which means there are more earthworms and earthworm tunnels. These tunnels allow rain water to flow into the soil instead of washing off the land6. Traps soil moisture to improve water availability: Keeping crop residue on the surface traps moisture in the soil by providing shade which helps to reduce water evaporation 7. Reduces soil erosion: Crop residues on the soil surface reduce erosion by water and wind. Depending on the amount of residues present, soil erosion can be reduced by up to 90 percent compared to an unprotected, intensively tilled field8. Improves water quality: Crop residue
GM soybeans –
The on-farm facts
by Laura Foell, Farmer Director of the United Soybean Board, USA
18 | May - June 2014GRAIN
FEED MILLING TECHNOLOGY