I had the great pleasure of attending a screening of the movie Food Evolution presented by CropLife Canada, Life Sciences Ontario, UofW Faculty of Science Foundation, Partners in Research, Ontario Agri-Food Technologies, Food Starter, Royal Canadian Institute of Science and narrated by none other than scientist extraordinaire Niel deGrasse Tyson which tackles the hotly debated topic of GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms.
After the screening, the audience participated in a panel discussion about the movie and the topic of GMOs from a varied panel of guests including the movie’s director, scientists and farmers who shared their experiences with GMOs and how GMOs are applied to their current farming practices. The panel included:
- Scott Hamilton Kennedy, Director
- Motlatsi Musi, South African farmer
- Carol T. Culhane, CEO of International Food Focus Ltd.,
- Ian Affleck, Executive Director, Plant Biotechnology at CropLife Canada
- Greg Hannam, Ontario cash crop farmer (Woodrill Farms)
Admittedly, I had several misconceptions about conventional farming including the idea that conventional farmers only used synthetic fertilizers that provided nitrogen, potassium and ammonium only and that they didn’t rotate their fields, or let them rest but rather farmed them repeatedly year after year. During the panel discussion, Canadian farmer Greg Hannam from Woodrill Farms in Guelph Ontario shared his approach to managing his farms including the decisions that are considered when he thinks about whether or not to use a GMO product.
I was able to ask Greg a few questions to enlighten myself and others on GMOs, farming and what he struggled with when it comes to the public’s perceptions on these topics.
What is one or two of the biggest myths about modern day crop farming?
I think the biggest challenge which leads to the development of myths is simply human nature on how we view topics we don’t have a lot of time to think about. It seems easier for us to deal with an issue if we take a black and white, or good and bad view of a topic, compartmentalize our opinions and move on. Unfortunately Agriculture and Farming is a complex system that needs more thought and it is harder to capture someone’s attention long enough to have a details conversation.
During the panel discussion, you mentioned that you still rotate fields and don’t over-farm. I thought that was a thing of the past. What’s involved with this practice?
Crop Rotation is an extremely important farming practice and is used almost exclusively by all farmers (of course we can’t say 100% because there are always some exceptions, but it should be noted that these exceptions exist in all types of farming, conventional and organic). The main benefit to rotating a crop is to control the insect and disease populations, which in turn reduces the need to use a control mechanism for these diseases and pests (i.e. application of a crop protection product).
Not ‘over-farming’ is really the approach that most farmers have towards crop production, when we setup or production plan for any given year, we do so with the intent to leave the land in better shape than it currently is in. (increased fertility, improved soil structure, etc). This of course is a plan that we make with Mother Nature. We can’t always 100% predict what the weather will be but we can build a plan to improve our soils to the best of our ability (and financial resolve).
Are all your crops GMO if you’re not exclusively an organic farmer?
I am not an organic farmer, I am a conventional farmer. Some of the crops that I grow are GMO, some are not.
What things do you consider when deciding to plant a GMO crop?
GMO’s is a generic term for crops that have specific traits added to them, and currently the traits in corn and soybeans are production traits. (traits that add benefits to the production of the crop). Therefore the first thing I do is evaluate the need for this trait on my farm. If I have a weed population / insect pressure in my fields then the utilization of the GMO crop is of benefit to my production, as well as, not having to control these pests is other ways (i.e. spraying). This is of course made in conjunction with the economical side of the equation, can I control the pest in another way that is more economical?
Are your farming practices completely under your control or does the government dictate some of them?
Other than the regulated type of products, there are a couple of specific regulations that effect some farmers (Nutrient Management Regulation) but for the most part farmers are in complete control of their farming practices. There are what is considered ‘Normal Farm Practices’ and ‘Best Management Practices’ that the farming community uses as guidelines for how we do what we do. But we are not control by the government.
Check out the movie trailer: Food Evolution
Disclosure: I received compensation from Canola Eat Well for this post, however, the opinions are my own.