Food production practices have evolved over the years to support food availability and choices for our ever-growing population. One of the tools is biotechnology. This technique has been used for over 20 years in food production and has been scientifically proven to be a safe and effective way to support our food system. You may have previously read an article or two of ours talking about how biotechnology and GMO (genetically modified organism) crops help to decrease food waste, give multiple populations nutritious food options, and help farmers use less pesticides.
But what about getting more info on GMO crops straight from the horse’s…uh, farmer’s mouth? To do so, we recently caught up with farmer Katie Pratt. Katie and her husband have a family farm in northern Illinois, where they grow 7,500 acres of corn, soybeans and seed corn (field-corn seed that can be used to grow future commercial corn crops).
Q: What crops do you grow that are genetically modified?
A: All our commercial corn and soybeans are genetically modified. We also grow GMO and non-GMO seed corn.
Q: Why do you grow GMO crops?
A: We have seen that our GMO crops require less pesticide applications. We spray our fields before planting GMO seeds for weed control, and then we won’t spray again until right before the crop canopies. After that, we don’t have to spray for weeds again.
Our insecticide applications are lower on GMO crops as well. We plant some hybrid crops that are resistant to corn borer [an insect that can significantly damage corn and other grain crops]. Since the crop has the ability to fight its own battle against these pests, we don’t need to spray for these particular insects.
We have been able to decrease our pesticide applications, which means we are not in our fields as much. This helps in not disturbing the soil environment. When my father and grandfather farmed, they would be out in their fields weekly tilling to get rid of weeds. The hefty tilling time they would use resulted in a considerable amount of diesel being expelled into the air and soil compaction [compression of the soil that leads to less air and water being in the soil. This can lead to soil degradation].
Q: There’s concern about pesticides, like glyphosate, being applied to GMO crops. What would you like consumers to know about the use of these products?
A: As farmers, we must be certified to apply pesticides to our GMO and non-GMO crops. My husband goes through a course every three years to be certified to apply pesticides on our farm.
Depending on the pesticide we’re using, the amount can range anywhere from a shot glass to a pop can per acre, which is about the size of a football field. From our experience, we view glyphosate as one of the most effective and least toxic herbicide ingredients on the market today.
As a farmer’s wife, a farmer’s daughter and the mom of a future farmer (my son), I’m very concerned over recent media conversations about banning glyphosate. We don’t want to lose useful crop protection tools.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: If you have a question about GMOs, I welcome people to ask me and my husband. People should also reach out to other farmers that are using GMO technology. We enjoy answering questions. Having these discussions about farming helps people understand more about GMO crops and helps farmers think about if there are any improvements we could make in our farming practices.
To contact Katie or read more about her life and perspectives on farming, visit her blog, The Illinois Farm Girl. We thank Katie for taking the time to share her experience on growing GMOs.
Katie Pratt, Illinois Farmer
Interview by Laura Barrera, Freelance Ag & Horticulture Writer. This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.