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GM soybeans – The on-farm facts

GM soybeans – The on-farm facts

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Our 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.
Our 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.

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Published by: Milling and Grain (formerly GFMT) on Jun 18, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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Digital Re-print - May | June 2014
GM soybeans – The on-farm facts
Grain & Feed Milling Technology is published six times a year by Perendale Publishers Ltd of the United Kingdom. All data is published in good faith, based on information received, and while every care is taken to prevent inaccuracies, the publishers accept no liability for any errors or omissions or for the consequences of action taken on the basis of information published. ©Copyright 2014 Perendale Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior permission of the copyright owner. Printed by Perendale Publishers Ltd. ISSN: 1466-3872
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
 to reduce herbicide runoff into surface water by more than 50 percent9. Increases wildlife: Crop residues provide shelter and food for wildlife, such as game birds and small animals10. Improves air quality: Crop residue left on the surface improves air quality because it: reduces soil erosion, thus reducing the amount of dust in the air; reduces fossil fuel emissions from  tractors by making fewer trips across  the field; and reduces the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by  tying up more carbon in organic matter 
Magic bullet
Despite these benefits, biotech is not the ‘magic bullet’ for sustainable agriculture. The most important thing is that farmers develop a farming regime that is perfectly adapted to the conditions on their farm. Our stewardship programs use sustainable tech-niques such as crop rotation and precision farming, and to use fertilizers and herbicides as little and in as localized a manner as possible. While the technology has brought tre-mendous benefits to farmers across the world, it is not a panacea and there are several issues about which we as farmers have concerns. First, glyphosate-resistant weeds have occurred in some regions in the US This is not a result of biotech as such as weed resistance will eventually occur with most chemicals, but mainly because of the repeated use of glypho-sate. This over-reliance can be combated by  the use of broadleaf herbicide tank mixes and development of new biotech varieties resist-ant to other herbicide chemistries. Another concern is that the success of biotech has resulted in a reduction in the development of non-biotech varieties by seed companies. Non-biotech seeds are still available but future development of new non-biotech varieties will be increasingly under pressure. Finally, the delay in approvals of biotech events in regions such as the EU has caused  trade disruption. As an ever increasing number of bio- tech crops are developed there is increas-ing pressure on regulatory authorities to approve these traits for commercialization. Anti-biotech sentiment in regions such as  the European Union has resulted in a politi-cization of the approval process with factors other than science becoming the de facto arbiter of commercialization. These delays in approvals mean that it is taking the EU much longer than other regions, such as the Americas, to approve biotech crops. This in turn impacts trade as any unapproved biotech crops cannot enter  the EU and on several occasions when this has happened, it led to higher production costs for EU livestock and poultry producers. Further, the wide scale adoption of bio- tech soy in the main exporting countries means that non-biotech soy is both hard to find and expensive with such crops often costing double the commodity crop.Until now, biotech soybeans have had agro-nomic traits which benefited the farmer. For consumers, who might wonder what biotech crops will do for them, the second generation of biotech soy varieties are now being produced which have added value traits for specialty oils with increase stability, or soybeans with higher protein levels, or higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids that can help protect people from heart disease or provide better food processing quali- ties such as a high oleic soybean oil. Given the confusion and concern among many consumers about biotechnology I take part in a number of consumer education pro-grams. Consumers need to know that respon-sible food production and the cultivation of biotech crops is no contradiction. Growing biotech crops has actually made us more aware of conservation and sustainable farming.Bill and I are little different to farmers the world over, large and small, in our approach  to farming. Basically, we all look after our land and  the environment in which we live and work. To do this we will use those farming prac- tices, tools and technologies that are safe, efficient and beneficial for our farms, our families and the generations to come. Biotech soy is one of those tools which benefit not only us as farmers but also the wider society which enjoys the considerable envi-ronmental and socio-economic advantages of sustainable production without additional cost.
 ISAAA: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/ GM Crops 2013 Brookes G and Barfoot P (2014) Economic impact of GM crops: the global income and production effects 1996-2012
May - June 2014 | 19GRAIN

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