Can you tell me more about the sustainablity of GE farming practices?
Submitted by: JamieR
Expert response from Brian Scott
Thursday, 18/12/2014 22:43
When it comes to keeping our operation sustainable GE crops can play an important role. Herbicide resistance traits aren't a requirement for no-till farming, but we find the ability to select from a wider range of herbicides in a given crop allows for more flexibility in our weed management program as we transition our farm into more no-till acres. It's nice to have options like this at hand when tillage is no longer a method used for weed control. Two of the best benefits of eliminating tillage are reduced erosion from water and wind, and better water infiltration. Less erosion and surface water runoff also mean less pollution is getting into ditches, streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans.
On the pest control side Bt corn has helped in reducing our pesticide use. Three years ago, we quit applying liquid insecticide at planting. For controlling pests in corn, we now rely on Bt traits and/or seed treatments that protect young plants from pests and diseases. We were using Bt and treatments before, but now we've just eliminated the liquid application. So far we are getting along just fine without planter applied insecticide. This works for us on our farm in our particular location. It's nice to reduce our cost to raise a crop while also reducing our environmental footprint. Outside of a rare infestation of a pest not controlled by either Bt traits or treated seed, we haven't been spraying our corn crops with pesticide during the growing season. In fact, I think we've sprayed just 30 acres for armyworm in a non-Bt field once since I returned to the farm in 2009. Reducing the over-the-top spray application means we are also only targeting the pests that threaten our crop. With Bt, a bug has to take a bite out of our crop to be affected. A blanket application with a sprayer can kill non-pests and beneficial insects. Keeping sprayers on the sidelines also means less fuel and water needed to run them. Usually 90 percent or more of a spray mix is water used as a carrier for the mix.
The future of GE crops could play an even bigger role towards being sustainable. I can imagine a day when grasses like corn and wheat could fix their own nitrogen like legumes such as soybeans and clover are able to do. Nitrogen is one of our largest expenses in raising a corn crop, and it is tough to manage putting on the right amount without losing any to the atmosphere or to ground water. If nitrogen was something I no longer had to buy, that would be a massive step forward. Improving the water use efficiency of crops is great, too. We don't have to irrigate our crops here because we normally have plenty of rain, but as you travel west across America water becomes a big deal. It's a scarce resource. Any time we can figure out a way to be as productive or more productive with less water used, it's a good thing. GE crops could be part of that. In fact, they are part of that equation already.
Some people are down on GE crops right now, but I think we have to keep this technology alive because the future possibilities could bring us much more than herbicide tolerance and pest resistance.