Jennifer Schmidt

Independent Expert

Maryland Farmer and Registered Dietician

Jennifer lives on a family farm with her husband and two children. Schmidt Farms is a very diverse farm, including grains, vegetables, hay and wine grapes in Sudlersville, Maryland. The diversity doesn’t end at their farm.

Not only does Jennifer work on the farm and...

Coexistence: Organic & GMO

By Jennifer Schmidt (Independent Expert) on Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - 17:21
Category:

Originally posted at The Foodie Farmer blog.

I drove to a customer's vineyard yesterday to do some scouting, as Japanese beetles have been incessantly pesky this year. As I drove up the back lane it dawned on me that I had the perfect image and topic for a blog, one that I've mentioned in the past, and that is of the coexistence of both biotech and organic crops.

organic and biotech crop coxistence

Perfect example of organic and biotech crop coexistence. The right is organic corn. The left is biotech corn. The cannot "drift" or "contaminate" each other. Read on to find out why.

In the rhetoric of social media, you wouldn't know it, but along the back roads of rural America, biotech and organic crops get along, and so do their farmers (at least the ones I know). I love living and being neighbors in the farmland of rural America. We hear the "noise" of social media, but it doesn't usurp our world. Our world is open, quiet and peaceful. Neighbors still know each other and wave as they pass by. The polarization of our food and farming systems is on our phones, our iPads, our TVs, our laptops, but not in our fields.

This farm is not mine; as I've written before, we no longer farm organically. It is the farm of a landlord I know who is not a farmer. He leases the farm out to different farmers, and it just so happens that one is certified organic and the other is conventional. You wouldn't know this if you passed by the farm. There's no billboard or signage announcing one or the other. There are no battles or controversies surrounding these fields. There is just peaceful coexistence. I know because I personally know the landlord and the farmers. Just two farmers farming the land and trying to make a living doing what they love.

So why can these two corn crops coexist?

Biotech corn past pollination

Biotech corn past pollination.

This biotech corn is fully developed. If you read my "corn sex" (AKA #50shadesoffarming) post on my Foodie Farmer Facebook page, you are aware of the fact that the way corn has "sex" is by dropping pollen from the tassel at the top of the stalk to the silk, which is the hair on the ear of the corn, in order to reproduce and form kernels. This biotech corn is way past pollination because the silk has dried up and turned brown. Pollination happens over the course of about 10 days to two weeks, given good pollination conditions, such as no extreme heat, no excessive rain, etc.

So you're still wondering why this organic farmer would risk putting his corn next to the biotech farmer, right? (Or vice versa, as the case may be.)

Organic corn not having reached pollination

Organic corn not having reached pollination.

This organic corn is not in pollination stage yet. There are no tassels, and there are no ears of corn with silks yet. There is no way for the biotech corn to pollinate this organic corn, because 1) the biotech pollen is gone — this corn is well past pollination; it has no "male sperm," so to speak; 2) the organic corn has no ears of corn, and thus no "female" parts by which to receive the "male" pollen. So, to be biologically correct, the male pollen, just like sperm, has a short life. Once released, it is viable for only 18–24 hours. Pollen is not able to reproduce indefinitely. So once the silks on the ear have dried up, the pollen is pretty much past its ability to contribute to reproduction.

Given the different stages of growth these two fields of corn are in, it is biologically impossible for them to "drift" to one another. That's the management of field planning, something all we farmers do.

Coexistence is an extremely manageable situation and happens more often than you are led to believe by the media. We practiced organic, conventional and biotech farming systems simultaneously for seven years and continue to do specialty seed production, which still requires the same level of management to ensure purity. That's all coexistence is — management and planning.

So, despite what you may hear in the media, know that it is very doable and happens often. We farmers have been managing it well, despite those who would lead you to believe otherwise.

Likewise, when we have specialty grains or seeds that need storage, we clean, then we clean and then we clean some more.

 We clean this.

tractor trailer

We clean these.

grain bins

And we clean these.

We clean what I refer to as our farm "infrastructure": the grain tanks, the grain trailer, the seed carts, the planters, the combine — anything that comes in contact with multiple crops that need to be kept segregated. Again, tedious work, but simply just a management tool to allow for coexistence of commodity crops with specialty crops, those that need to be kept segregated from the rest.
 
We recognize that there are pros and cons to all types of farming. There is no "one" best farming system that is without flaw. There is no "one" cookie-cutter system that all farmers should universally follow, because we all have different soil types and microclimates that impact what and how we grow. But know that we do respect each other and coexist with each other, even when we farm with different methods.
 
We farmers coexist, and so do our crops. The world would be a better place if others followed suit.

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