Minesota Farmer Turns To Non-GMO Seeds
Categories: On The Farm
The history of seeds are intricately intertwined with our own history. If we lose the ability to harvest, exchange and save our own seeds. We might lose more than we bargained for. I love stories where farmers chose to do the right thing for themselves, their families, the environment and for future generations.
Kevin Tart believes that the seed knows best.
“I’ve seen a lot better crops with non-GMO seeds,” said the rural Spring Valley farmer, pausing to stand in the barn while the early fall corn rustled in the wind.
Tart and his father, David, have planted non-genetically modified organism (GMO) corn seed for the past four years and found that they have had better success than with planting genetically engineered corn seed. He related that he has noticed higher yields than when his family farmed using engineered seed and that there are numerous reasons he plants non-GMO seed, beginning with a responsibility to the environment on a microscopic level and factoring in that their beef cattle operation has shown greater production.
Kevin Tart stands in the non-GMO corn test plot on his farm outside of Spring Valley, pleased with the ears of corn that have been produced. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
The Tarts’ farm, now planted with corn grown from seed obtained through Prairie Hybrids, a mostly Mennonite-owned seed company based in Deer Grove, Illinois, has served as their home and livelihood, but recently, the father and son have chosen to take one side of the ongoing debate about whether engineered seed can produce more corn or whether hybrids — seeds crossed with other seeds to gain natural advantages of the traits of each kind of seed — are actually going to out-produce the GMO, or engineered, seed. The point of farming is to raise quality food sources but to do so in cooperation with nature, using the bacteria and fungi, or decomposers, that are already available in the soil to promote a life cycle that is beneficial to both the farmer and the soil, the Tarts noted.
“Good non-GMO corn leaves something for the bacteria to break down,” David pointed out.
It’s a matter of what’s left behind the combine now that harvest is in full action — whether what is left to settle down into the ground is good for the soil and the organisms, big or small, that feed upon what grows from the soil. Kevin commented on how striking a balance between getting disease-resistant corn and corn that produces enough to sustain the farm and ultimately the nutritional economy is important, and that changes in their farm operations have been visible.
“Our beef cow operation…we don’t see the turnaround that they’d see in dairy, but they’re a little more healthy,” he said. “The field health…the crops look better, we’ve got higher yields than before. Everybody switched to GMOs 20 years ago to get higher yields, but now, there’s a drop in yields. It’s about getting the soil health back.”
Prairie Hybrid representative Gilbert Hostetler maintains that “genetically-modified organism, or GMO, protein kills biology…the corn borer and worms,” but that it also has detrimental effects on the cattle that eat it, and in turn, the people who ingest the products from the cattle, be they dairy or beef.
“You take that corn fodder, or silage, and put it in the cows’ stomach…I probably get calls three to four times a month confirming that the switch means more milk and more calves,” Hostetler said. “The cows eat less feed and the feeder cattle fatten out quicker, but if you put GMO protein in the cows’ stomach, high-fructose corn syrup….”
Hostetler presented his opinion to The Organic & Non-GMO Report, in which he stated, “many times, dairy farmers have called me to say they are seeing health problems from GMO feed and that these improve with non-GMO feed…that happens over and over…I have too much evidence from too many farmers who say the same things about animal conception and digestive problems and sickness from genetically-modified feed. GMOs are weakening the immune systems of children, which in turn is increasing diseases in children. The protein in the genetically-modified corn plant is killing the biology in our digestive tract. When Similac (baby formula) went non-GMO, that gave me a good indication of where this is going.”
Claims that GMO corn has caused a range of childhood diseases and disorders — including autism — have yet to be verified, but Kevin remarked on the growing industrial trend of incorporating non-GMO food products into commercial food items, including some larger companies such as Kellogg’s and Pillsbury.
He offered a copy of the online magazine EcoWatch, which included an article that cited Reuters’ report on the European Union’s impending decisions regarding GMO and non-GMO crops. It stated these governments have taken the “opt-out clause of a European Commission rule passed in March 2015 that allows its 28-member bloc to abstain from growing GMO crops, even if they are already authorized to be grown within the union.”
According to Reuters, the member states specifically targeted the cultivation of Monsanto’s MON 810 maize, the only GMO crop grown in Europe (just in Spain and Portugal) and is currently under review at the European level. The 19 countries opting out are Austria, Belgium for the Wallonia region, Britain for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia.
“Although GMOs are widely grown in many parts of the world, the topic is fraught with contention in Europe,” noted the article. “Many of EU countries have strict laws against GMOs out of public health and environmental concerns, and all 28 nations require GMO labeling.”
There isn’t an ostentatious label announcing the seed corn’s engineering lot on the end of the rows of the fields that David and Kevin cultivate and harvest. To the passerby, the corn that grows on the test plot approximately half a mile away from the Tarts’ farm might just look like regular field corn, but for Kevin and David, it represents the choice they’ve made, like the countries in Europe, to attempt to return to agriculture as it was before science intervened.
The Tarts acknowledged the ongoing debate related to hybrid and engineered seed corn, but ultimately, they’ve chosen to go non-GMO, and so far, it’s their success story growing on tall stalks clinging to the rolling hillsides of this bluff country.