GMO crops, sometimes it’s a matter of safety for the grower

Prior to the introduction of GMO corn that is resistant to rootworms, an insect that feeds on the roots of a corn plant and can have a severe impact on yield, farmers had to use an insecticide to control rootworms.  When I returned to the family farm in 1992, insecticides were applied only on corn that was planted on a field that had been planted to corn the previous year,  Corn that was planted on a field that had been planted to soybeans the previous year did not require an insecticide application.  That changed for us in 2003, because many farmers had started planting an equal number of corn and soybean acres to get away from having to apply insecticides, the rootworm evolved to be able to lay eggs in soybean fields.  That meant that the following year, the eggs would hatch and the larvae would feed on the corn roots.  It also meant a return to the use of insecticides, or a choice to not use insecticides and suffer a reduction in yield, which could have threatened the viability of our farming operation.

In 2005, rootworm resistant corn became available to farmers to plant.  This meant that we could once again cut back on our use of insecticides, except on the 20% of our acres that we are required to plant to a non GMO crop for refuge to negate the development of resistant insects.

I am writing on this subject to provide some insight to why we choose to plant certain GMO crops.  Rootworm resistant corn is important to me today for one reason.  About 9 months ago, my father found out he has developed a form of Parkinson’s that his Neurologist suspects was caused by years of applying insecticides that contained Organophosphates, which can affect the nervous system.  Insecticides applied at planting time are usually a granular product that comes in 50 pound bags that you have to manually open and dump into the planter.  There is a risk for dermal, or skin, exposure, and a risk of inhalation of the dust.  Years of applying insecticides can lead to health problems for the farmers who apply them.

We choose to plant GMO crops for several reasons.  They allow us to farm more profitably and allow us to employ more environmentally friendly methods of crop production, to name two reasons.  But concern for our health is a primary reason for planting GMO crops because they allow us to avoid using pesticides that could possibly have adverse effects to our health.

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2 Responses to GMO crops, sometimes it’s a matter of safety for the grower

  1. I don’t believe I know anyone affected by pesticide use in this way, but I know it can happen. Safety needs to be top of mind at all times on the farm. Things can happen in an instant or over many years like the exposure you mentioned our even hearing loss from being around noisy equipment. I had an abrasion on my eye last fall when a gust of wind blew a bunch of dust off the combine. Now I wear my sunglasses more often, and always wear safety glasses when using an air gun, grinding, etc. GMO has many benefits so thanks for pointing this not so obvious one out.

  2. Mary Fleming says:

    Thanks for sharing. As an agricultural health nurse, parkinsons disease is a real risk for farmers, especially due to insecticide exposure. Each of us needs to continue to look at how science and technology can be used to help us produce efficiently, bountifully, and safely.

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