Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Costs of GMO Labeling

There has been much discussion over whether or not the labeling of "GMO" foods would add to the cost of food production or not. This was one of the supporting arguments for GMO labeling at the legislative hearing at the Maryland House of Delegates Committee on Health and Government Operations during which Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Michael Hansen of the Center for Food Safety, both insisted that labeling costs would be minor at best.

So does Mother Jones

So does The Grist

Wow, do these scientists and journalists have any understanding of the food supply chain from farm gate to grocery shelf?

Apparently not, nor does anyone else who thinks that "GMO" labeling won't increase the cost of food.

Here is my pictorial analysis of the food supply chain from my farm gate:

Seed corn is ordered and delivered to farm, then planted in the spring around May.
By summer, it looks like this.
By fall, it looks like this.

It gets harvested between September and November.

Corn is transferred from the combine to a tractor trailer truck.

The grain is hauled here to our on-farm grain bins for storage.
We have storage for about 50,000 bushels, less than 25% of our total
yields in a normal year for corn, soybeans, wheat and barley, all of which need
to be stored until they're needed by our customers. This includes the specialty seeds we grow
that require segregation from commodity grains.

When its time to sell, we reload the trucks and haul it to the local grain elevators.
The tractor trailer delivers the corn here

Or here

Or here

And that's just 3 of the local grain elevators. We have several other options depending on who is buying our grain. We and all our farming neighbors deliver to the same elevator and unload grain. This is called "commingling" where our crop is combined with everyone else who delivers to the same elevator and stored together in these large bins, regardless of what variety or trait of corn was grown.

So where's the cost you ask? Well, every farmer in the region is hauling grain usually around the same time... to the same group of elevators. Hopefully you read my blog on seed choice last year and realize that all farmers determine their own purchases for seed and we don't all grow the same thing. In fact, we grow 3-4 different varieties of corn ourselves. Why? Because we match the varieties of corn to our soil types. That's called good stewardship and good business practice.

The food supply chain in the United States relies on a system of commingling, grain delivered to the elevator by farmers throughout the region. Maryland has 2 million acres of farmland, nearly a half million of which grew corn in 2012. In a not very good growing year, Maryland farmers produce 53 million bushels of corn.

If GMO labeling were to pass, that would require a HUGE addition to both on and off farm storage. Nationally, we're talking billions of dollars in infrastructure needed to segregate grain. What none of these labeling laws is clear about either is how to achieve this segregation? Should it be segregated by trait? by variety? both? The more layers of segregation, the more infrastructure is required and the more the costs escalate. 

Segregation is costly. We know because we do it every year, year in and year out, and have for years. We do it because we get paid a premium for ensuring that the specialty grains and seeds we grow are "identity preserved", very much like the certified organic process, involving higher management, higher tracking, and systems in place to ensure that the grains and seeds are genetically consistent and true to their traits, of highest quality meaning they are uniform in size, shape, color, free of weed seed and contamination. We will have 900 acres of grains and seeds this year that will require some protocol for identity preservation. They will be tested for the presence of GMO and tested to ensure that they are genetically consistent to parent seeds. This requires us to use some of our grain tanks for segregation. It requires us to do more "housekeeping", cleaning equipment, trucks, trailers, planters, harvesters, grain bins, etc... all along the food supply chain to ensure that we have preserved the identity of that crop. It is an inherently more costly system.

So what are the costs? Here is my rudimentary analysis from the USDA Crop Production 2013 Summary

There is 13 billion bushels of on farm storage in the United States.

There is 10.4 Billion bushels of off farm storage in the United States.

Last year, U.S. Farmers grew the following crops ALL of which require storage:
  • 13.9 billion bushels of corn
  • 389 million bushels of sorghum
  • 421 million bushels of rice
  • 3.3 billion bushels of soybeans
  • 2.1 billion bushels of wheat
  • 215 million bushels of barley
  • 1 million bushels of oats
  • 7.6 million bushels of rye
  • 18 million bushels of millet
  • 3 million bushels of flax seed
  • 7.8 million bushels of safflower
  • 1 million bushels of canola
  • 65 million bushels of sunflower
  • 38 million bushels of rapeseed and mustard seed
  • 301 million bushels of lentils
  • 937 million bushels of dry peas
  • 250 million bushels of peanuts
  • 1.5 Billion bushels of other dry edible beans including:
      • light red kidney
      • dark red kidney
      • Great Northern
      • baby limas
      • large limas
      • pinto beans
      • small white
      • navy beans

So 2013 produced roughly 23.5 billion bushels of 26 different grains and seeds, including those already in some form of identity preservation protocol, and have storage capacity of 23.6 billion bushels... without the extra infrastructure to segregate "GMO" from "nonGMO". To segregate, additional infrastructure would be required along the entire food supply chain from farm gate to grain elevator to processor to manufacturer, in order to separate corn, soybeans, and canola. 

A new grain bin cost approximately $2/bushel to buy and install, so a 50,000 bushel bin will cost $100,000. If we currently have sufficient storage for commingled grains and seeds, what will be the astronomical figure to segregate them by trait? That answer is dependent on how we are going to segregate.  In order to have true traceability, GMO seeds and grains would have to be segregated by trait, so RoundUp ready traited grains would have to be segregated from Bt traited grains, and the stacked or combined traited grains would have to be segregated from those that are just Bt or just RoundUp Ready, and the combinations of traited grains would have to be segregated by the combination or stack of traits in the seeds too, because otherwise, you don't have "truth in labeling" to say which GMO is in the product. 

I mean surely, we need to label it by GMO trait right? because otherwise "we don't know". This is the premise by which the activists say is the problem right? The uncertainty of GMO? We can't commingle traited seeds and grains because then we no longer have true traceability. Absolute and utter segregation by trait or combination thereof is required to meet the demands of what is being called for in the GMO labeling legislation across the U.S.

True GMO labeling will require vast capitalization of infrastructure to segregate grains and seeds by trait. (Read $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$).

And I've only been talking about the costs of grain storage.  I can't even begin the fathom the costs that it would take to segregate all along the entire food supply chain, keeping GMO corn, soybean or canola ingredients segregated by trait from conventional counterparts from the farm to the processor to manufacturer. We're talking billions of dollars in order to maintain the absolute traceability of a certain genetic trait in a seed from farm to final product. 

Those who say GMO labeling won't add to the consumer's grocery bill need to go back to Economics 101 and some basic high school math. 

True traceability in our food supply system will be hugely expensive.

Its likely that as a nation, we'd never capitalize all that infrastructure to achieve true traceability.

Which goes to the crux of the matter -  this isn't about labeling, as I cited in my last GMO blog, labeling is a means to an end. As noted by many activist groups, the ulterior motive behind labeling is not about a consumer's right to know, it is about banning the technology. 

Say NO to mandatory GMO labeling. Stand for science.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Grow GMO: Not Ashamed or Embarrassed

Yesterday, I testified before the Maryland State Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. I was speaking against SB778 "Genetically Engineered Foods - Labeling Requirements" 

My interview with WBOC on GMO labeling

Introduced by Senator Karen Montgomery, of Montgomery County, the bill synopsis states: 

 "Requiring specified raw foods and packaged foods that are entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering to display a specified label beginning on July 1, 2015; requiring a manufacturer to include a specified label on specified foods; requiring a supplier to include a specified label on a container used for packaging, holding, or transporting specified foods; requiring a retailer to place a specified label on a shelf or bin containing specified foods; etc."

She introduced the hearing legislation by asking why people acted "ashamed or embarrassed" about GMO. She claimed she was a supporter of biotechnology and wasn't afraid of it but that consumers have the right to know. 

But many of the groups who claim that consumers have the "right to know" are actually working toward a ban of the technology. 

Organic consumers Association: "Once GMOs foods are labeled, informed consumers will move to protect themselves and their families by not buying them. Once enough consumers shun GMO-tainted and labeled foods, stores will stop selling them and food manufacturers will stop putting GMO food ingredients in their products."

Center for Food Safety:  "Labeling #GMO food is not enough. We must keep new GE crops out of food supply to begin with take action @TrueFoodNow"

March Against Monsanto: "Many presume the March Against Monsanto is a protest about GMO. While food plays a very big role in the global protest, there are many insidious tentacles to the biotech giant. MAM seeks to destroy the root."

Truth-Out: "GMO labeling laws are the cornerstone of the anti-GMO movement. But consumers are also expanding the fight by demanding outright bans on the growing of GMO crops."

In fact, two consumers who testified at the same hearing in favor of labeling voiced the very same thing, that labeling didn't go far enough, that biotechnology needed to be banned.

The Consumers Union, Food and Water Watch, and Union of Concerned Scientists had their legal team of suits presenting. I'm not going to restate their position because if you google Michael Hansen or Doug Gurian-Sherman, you will find pages of testimony nearly word for word identical to what they told the senate hearing yesterday, including continuing to claim the validity of the retracted Seralini study.

In response to Senator Montgomery's comment: I am an unashamed and unembarrassed supporter of biotechnology. On my Maryland farm it has resulted in higher yields and lower pesticide applications, year after year, wet season, dry season, normal season. Even when Hurricane Irene knocked our corn flat, biotech held its ears better than non GMO corn by 26 bushels per acre, which in a very crappy year, makes a world of difference to our family farm's ability to stay afloat.

Our corn yield comparison data
Our soybean yield comparison data
Biotech out perform our specialty seeds: non GMO & Identity Preserved. Yes, we grow and segregate a variety of different types of grains and seeds, all of which are tested and verified as pure to the variety they are supposed to be. This year, we will have 900 acres of grains and seeds under some protocol for identity preservation. The seed must be genetically consistent and true to its traits, uniform in shape, size and color, and free from weed seed and contamination. They are tested and verified to meet those standards. So co-existence of conventional, biotech, and organic/Identity Preserved/nonGMO grains and seeds is possible. We do it every day on our family farm and have for many years now. Biotech threatens none of our niche or specialty markets. These farming systems are not and should not be considered mutually exclusive.

When you combine higher yields consistently, with less man hours on a tractor, burning less diesel fuel, and saving pesticide sprays, you have a far more sustainable family farm on the environment: less greenhouse gases, less fuel consumption, less pesticide use = protecting and preserving more resources.

But to the larger picture, biotechnology has brought us Humulin, Epogen, Herceptin and many, many other excellent lifesaving medical therapies. 

Biotechnology means we don't harvest insulin from hogs or cattle pancreas anymore.

Biotechnology means we don't harvest the enzyme chymosin from young calves to extract rennet from their stomachs which is then used to coagulate milk in the cheese making process. 

To me, this is progress. To me, these are reasons to oppose mandatory labeling of "GMO". It is both safe and efficacious in medicine and in food. 

Science and research concurs. Published last year, An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research reviewed 1783 studies, 312 of which were GE food & feed consumption studies finding "no scientific evidence of toxic or allergenic effects". The researchers concluded that "that genetic engineering and GE crops should be considered important options in the efforts toward sustainable agricultural production."

1783 studies... 312 of them on consumption of GE food and feed. That's a safety track record.

Nicolia, et al, 2013. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology
The technology is valuable in both medicine and food. The technology has many benefits to mankind.No one but the activists are saying biotech was supposed to be a "silver bullet". Farmers know its one of many tools in the tool box to improve sustainability and produce more food on less land.  Efforts to undermine the technology through mandatory GMO labeling that falsely implies there are safety concerns where none exist is misleading and a disservice to consumers.

I oppose Maryland SB778

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Divest Chipotle: Vote with your $$$

As Chipotle continues to release their "Farmed and Dangerous" advertisements, I continue to promote the message that people should boycott from eating at their restaurants and now encouraging consumers and especially family farms to divest of their stock (NYSE: CMG). Last week, I had our investment advisor verify that none of our retirement was invested in mutual funds that hold Chipotle stock. Thankfully we didn't. I shared my blog and concerns with another investment broker I knew. After watching Chipotle's commercial, they sold off quite a bit of CMG stock the next day, despite it being a good investment. Divestment is more important than holding the stock of a profitable company who lies about and earns profits off of the backs of family farms.  I've encouraged the agriculture boards that I serve on to divest from funds holding Chipotle and published a letter to the editor asking others to do the same.

How to divest:
1) call your financial advisor and ask them to verify that any investments you have in mutual funds do not hold CMG funds. If they do, sell off those mutual funds and find others without CMG stock.
2) look at your copy of your mutual fund prospectus or bring it up online and review the stock that they're invested in. Sell them if they hold CMG shares.
3) If you own shares of CMG stock as part of your investment portfolio, sell those shares.

Let's be clear here, Chipotle knows what's at stake. They acknowledge so in their 2012 annual report:

"In addition, our marketing has increasingly incorporated elements intended to encourage customers to question sources or production methods commonly used to produce food. These elements of our marketing could alienate food suppliers and may potentially lead to an increased risk of disputes or litigation if suppliers or other constituencies believe our marketing is unfair or misleading. Increased costs in connection with any such issues, or any deterioration in our relationships with existing suppliers, could adversely impact us."

Farm friends, Chipotle laid the groundwork for us, they themselves acknowledge their marketing plan for "Farmed and Dangerous" could adversely impact them and I submit to you that it's our duty as farmers and supporters of agriculture to do exactly that, by boycotting their restaurants and divesting their stock. We cannot only give lip service to disliking their campaign, we need to follow through by voting with our dollars. Just as any consumer, we can choose not to be part of their marketing ploy by opting out of their food and their stock.

Below is my recent letter to the editor of the Delmarva Farmer. I encourage other farmers to write similar letters to their Ag media sources as well as their commodity boards and farm organizations.

(Editor’s note: The writer, Jennie  Schmidt is vice president of the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board.)

(Feb. 25, 2014) I am putting out the call for readers of The Delmarva Farmer to boycott Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants and to divest from their stock.
Recently, they launched an advertising campaign titled “Farmed and Dangerous” on Hulu which is a web-based TV and movie channel.
It is a four-part satire supposedly representing today’s modern family farms, which Chipotle says are “dangerous.”
It’s not so much a comedy, but a highly charged, offensive campaign to make consumers believe lies about how their food is produced and all that is “wrong” in agriculture today.
This is not the first time this fast food restaurant chain has targeted family farmers.
Last year they launched “The Scarecrow” campaign which also targeted agriculture, demonizing family farms as “industrial” and “factory” farms.
USDA data shows that 97 percent of all U.S. farms are family owned and operated.
Chipotle is a good example of double-speak in attempting this “big” campaign to redefine itself as “small.”
Established in 1993, Chipotle has expanded to more than 1,500 restaurants and ranks second only to Taco Bell in the Top 50 Quick Service Restaurants in the Mexican food segment.
Chipotle’s fourth quarter 2013 profits increased 20.7 percent to $844 million.
Let’s be clear, if there is “Big” in food and agriculture, it is Chipotle, not the U.S. farmers supplying them.
Chipotle recognizes they may alienate the very people who supply the food to their restaurant.
In their 2012 annual stockholders report they state “we invest in marketing and advertising strategies that we believe will increase customers’ connection with our brand.
“In addition, our marketing has increasingly incorporated elements intended to encourage customers to question sources or production methods commonly used to produce food. These elements of our marketing could alienate food suppliers and may potentially lead to an increased risk of disputes or litigation if suppliers or other constituencies believe our marketing is unfair or misleading. Increased costs in connection with any such issues, or any deterioration in our relationships with existing suppliers, could adversely impact us.”
We the agricultural community need to let Chipotle know how we feel about their “Farmed and Dangerous.
Our farming community needs to take action against Chipotle by doing two things: Boycott their restaurants, and divesting their stock.
Check with your investment advisor to see if mutual funds in your investment portfolio hold Chipotle stock (NYSE: CMG) and divest from that fund if they do.
If you own Chipotle stock, sell it.
It makes no sense for us as farmers to complain about their advertising campaigns and yet be one of their investors.
If you serve on a commodity board or other farm organization, encourage the board to divest any funds they may hold that include Chipotle.
We need to put our money where our mouth is.
Let this taco joint know it does not have moral authority over family farms. Boycott and divest Chipotle.

—Jennie Schmidt

Monday, February 17, 2014

Boycott Chipotle: My Farm Is Not Dangerous

Chipotle recently launched a new negative ad campaign called "Farmed and Dangerous" spewing propaganda about today's modern farm families. Its a "comedy" that really isn't funny, in fact its downright offensive and frankly really ignorant on their part. Its the moralistic view of food eliteism that somehow as a fast food chain, they're superior in ethics, taste, and quality.... Really?

Myth: Chipotle wants you to believe that your food is produced by "industrial agriculture"
© Furmano Foods
 Fact:  According to USDA "Ninety-seven percent of U.S. farms are family farms where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator."
Above are four of the "industrial" members of our family who run our family farm.
Somehow, Chipotle thinks is appropriate to insult my 84 year old father in law who worked
his whole life building our family farm. 

Myth: Chipotle wants you to believe that your food is produced by "factory farms".
 Fact: Our storage tanks for grain are about as "factory" as we get on our farm. Really, they're akin to tupperware (of sorts) for many bushels of grain. Our equipment may make us more efficient, but it certainly doesn't qualify us as a "factory".

Myth: Chipotle wants you to believe that what we do is top secret to keep consumers in the
dark about what we are "really" doing on our farm.
Fact: Our business is wide open, you can drive by any day of the week and
witness for yourself what we are doing. In fact, we'll give you a tour!

Myth: Chipotle is marketing itself based on its perceived sense of higher authority
and values in the food chain system.
 Fact: Chipotle is stomping on the American family farm like mine in order to further line its own pocket. 

My family farm is not dangerous.
We have an open door policy and welcome people to come for tours and learn how we farm. If you have a question about how your food is grown, ask a farmer, not a fast food restaurant chain.

My family is boycotting Chipotle. 
No one in my family will ever eat at Chipotle's again. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Don't Fear Food!

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to St. Louis to attend a training program for the CommonGround movement. CommonGround is a volunteer group of farm women whose mission it is to share their family farming operations and how they raise your food. Our #hashtag for this conference was #dontfearfood14 thus the title of this blog. I met some really awesome farm women whose mission in life is to raise healthy families and grow healthy food.

In the midst of some heavy PR campaigns from corporate folks who have probably never set foot on a farm, portraying farms to be something their not, here are the authentic family farms sharing their lives with you so that as consumers you can be confident in the foods you buy. #DontFearFood

Katie Olthoff is an Iowa turkey farmer who blogs at:

Wanda Patsche is a Minnesota hog and grain farmer and blogs at:

Kristin Reese is an Ohio sheep farmer, owns "Local Flavor Foods" catering and blogs at:

Christy Wright is a Delaware produce grower and blogs at:

Katie Pinke is from a 5th generation North Dakota farm family and blogs at: 

Sarah Ross is an Iowa farm mom who blogs at:

These are just a few of the farm women I've met who are CommonGround volunteers and are open and sharing their stories with you the consumer. There are many, many others! Our doors are open, our stories are real, and we can share with you how your food is grown or raised and why you

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Daniel Plan: Gluten, Wheat, & Celiac

Daniel 10:3 - "I ate no rich food. No meat or wine crossed my lips, and i used no fragrant lotions until those 3 weeks had passed." (NLT)

I've been a fan of Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church for a number of years. His book A Purpose Driven Life guided my post-graduate degree decisions back in 2003. So when I found out he was publishing a "40 days to healthier living" book, I ordered it so I could continue to grow both spiritually and healthy. Being a Registered Dietitian, I have a weakness for these types of books, my shelves are cluttered with them. When it arrived, I of course went first to the "Foods to Lose" chapter which I opened with trepidation because I truly wondered which foods readers were going to be advised to "lose".

As a farmer, I'm a stickler for facts about agriculture and am tired of folks not in farming, spouting half truths and outright lies about agriculture to further their own agenda or line their own pockets. . If the book misfires in "foods to lose", then its pretty much over...

and indeed, it was over for The Daniel Plan.

Here is why professionally as a farmer and an RD, I'm returning The Daniel Plan.

"The heirloom biblical wheat of our ancestors is something modern humans never eat. Instead, we eat dwarf wheat, the product of genetic manipulation and hybridization, that created short, stubby, hardy, high-yielding wheat plants with much higher amounts of starch and gluten."

This is flawed for a couple of reasons:

1. USDA researcher Donald Karsada published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and analysis of historical wheat protein data which show that there has been no significant increase in wheat gluten.His research publication is linked here: Can an Increase in Celiac Disease Be Attributed to an Increase in the Gluten Content of Wheat as a Consequence of Wheat Breeding? Since 1925 to current data, wheat protein has averaged 10-18%.

NPR featured a show on this topic back in the fall which can be found here: Doctors Say Changes In Wheat Do Not Explain Rise Of Celiac Disease

2. USDA's National Small Grains Collection reports that both heirloom and modern wheat varieties have straw lengths ranging between 12" and 60" in length.

Some other facts about wheat, wheat intake, and gluten:.

In fact wheat consumption has declined from 2000 to 2012.

Source: USDA Wheat Year Book, Table 29

In addition, the premise that wheat consumption has contributed to obesity is also flawed. The table below shows peak wheat consumption  in the late 1800s, when, if wheat caused obesity, we would have been at our heaviest.
Source: Kasarda DD J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Feb 13;61(6):1155-9.

So what's the real cause of our obesity crisis? Calories! We're eating over 600 calories a day more than we were 4 decades ago!

Source: Dr. Julie Miller Jones
So look again, the first chart is USDA data showing the decline of wheat consumption and the 3rd chart is showing increasing calories since 1970. Still think its wheat?

Research shows whole grains have been associated with lower abdominal fat. The Framingham Heart Study (n=2834) compared visceral adipose tissue (VAT) to whole grain consumption and found that whole grain consumption lowered the amount of visceral fat. Visceral fat is the "cushion" around your vital organs but also is the fat that accumulates in excess in your abdominal area (think apple versus pear shaped). So think about the difference between whole grain and refined grain products. The difference in refining isn't changing the gluten in the wheat, it is changing the fiber content, while the processing into cookies, donuts, etc... adds fat and calories.

Source: McKeown et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2010; 92:1165-71
The lowest visceral fat noted in the front center column are those people who at 2 enriched and 3 whole grains daily.

But here was the refund real clincher for me - The book then goes on to say:

"The dwarf wheat grown in the United States has changed the quality and type of gluten protein in wheat, creating much higher gluten content, and creating a super-gluten that causes celiac disease and autoimmune antibodies."

Let me repeat that - the books specifically says "creating a super-gluten that causes celiac disease" (page 123)

I was done. I closed the book and was so utterly disappointed that Pastor Warren would associate himself with such misguided medical information. i couldn't even read the rest of the book. Chapter 4 closed the book for me because of a simple but very wrong medical statement.  I GET that he wants his congregation and himself  to get healthy. I applaud their success and their efforts BUT hear me when I say GLUTEN DOESN'T CAUSE CELIAC DISEASE!

The National Institutes of Health - Digestive Diseases Center states that celiac is a genetic autoimmune disease. 97% of people with celiac disease have the HLA-DQ-2 or the HLA-DQ-8 gene which predisposes them to celiac. This does not mean they necessarily develop celiac but usually have some triggering event such as surgery, pregnancy, viral infection, etc... It is detected by a blood test and confirmed by an intestinal biopsy. Less than 1% of the US population has celiac disease. Additionally, there is wheat allergy which less than 1% of people have and gluten sensitivity which afflicts approximately 6% of the population.

Source: WSJ: Clues to Gluten Sensitivity

Different from the many gluten-free fad diets, celiac is a very serious medical condition requiring the elimination of gluten from the diet. But the gluten-free market is a $3 billion food market. Books like The Daniel Plan and others that misrepresent celiac do true disservice to the medical condition.

Finally, what is NOT covered in this "Foods to Lose" chapter is the fact that barley, rye, and triticale also contain gluten. One of the chapter's subtitles is "Is Wheat Dangerous? The Problem With Gluten" but then makes NO mention of the other grains with gluten. So is the problem gluten, or is the problem wheat? Because you can't talk about one without the other and then leave out other grains that contain gluten. This type of misinformation does the reader a real disservice.

I applaud Pastor Warren and the Saddleback congregation for their weight loss and their efforts to grow healthy and spiritually. We Christians are told in the Book of I Corinthians 6:19 & 20 that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, that we don't own them, that we received them from God and should honor God through how we treat them. Each of our approaches may be different through diet, exercise and other choices we make that honor or dishonor God with the way we use our bodies. But we also honor God with the truth, and the truth is, there are too many factual errors about wheat, gluten and celiac disease in The Daniel Plan. It was truly disappointing for me as a fan of Rick Warren.

Biblical Daniel did not give up wheat or other whole grains. He did not go gluten-free.

Many thanks to Dr. Julie Miller Jones, PhD, LN, CNS for contributing her assistance and information to this blog. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Myth About Seed Choice

I recently had a twitter conversation on a topic that seemed to perpetuate an urban myth - that farmers do not have a choice when it comes to planting seed or that seed companies "impose" their seeds on farmers, as if it is a dictatorship... Last time I checked, America was a pretty free country. Most people are able to make choices on what they buy at the store... So why would that be different for farmers?

As a family farm, we grow both GMO (we don't actually use this term but for the sake of this blog, am using it for the reader for whom it may be a descriptor) and non-GMO crops and choose our seed produced from a variety of different seed companies, buying directly from our neighbors, which frankly, is the whole point of the fabric of rural America. We support one another.

So far, we have received about a dozen seed catalogs, and I don't mean Burpee-type gardening catalogs. I mean commercial seed for farmers. Some are large seed companies, others are small regional seed companies. None of them "impose" their seeds on us. We have 100% freedom of choice. My husband and brother in law make those choices based on our own farm's performance records, recommendations by our seed dealers, data provided by companies who do research plots on our farm and in our region, and conversations with farmer friends. No corporation influences these choices. No pressure is applied from any company to secure our business. Absolutely no one "imposes" seed on our family farm. We have hundreds of seed choices in each of our crops- corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, tomatoes, hay, and green beans. We have 100% control over what gets purchased and planted.

So we have technology agreements? Absolutely. Both our GMO and non-GMO seeds have either technology agreements or proprietary restrictions from saving seed.  As Rob Wallbridge shares in his blog An Organic Farmer Walks Into Monsanto, even organic seed has proprietary rights and cannot be saved. Seed is not unlike publications that can be copyrighted to protect the author's work. There would be far fewer food choices. Regardless of the methods of seed development, we have many, many more choices as consumers as a result of plant breeding. It is not surprising or for that matter unusual for people outside of agriculture to protect the rights to their work, why should it be different for agriculture?

The seeds and varieties we choose to plant are based on the demand we have for the markets in our area. In our tomato crop, the cannery wants specific varieties for specific products so one Roma variety is grown for stewed tomatoes while another Roma variety is grown for tomato sauce. We grow for the needs of the cannery. Likewise for our tofu customers, they tell us which soybeans they prefer and we grown to meet their needs. Likewise for our winery customers, we grow the grapes they want to process into wine.

We are also "seed" growers meaning we grow specific varieties for companies that will be then sold as seed. Farmers who can grow seed-quality seed get paid a premium for growing this level of purity. These seeds need to be "IP" Identity Preserved - genetically consistent and true to their traits, of highest quality meaning they are uniform in size, shape, color, free of weed seed and contamination.

We also grow "public domain" seed which are seeds that can be saved. These are seeds developed mainly by Universities, which are dwindling in size and support for agricultural research.  These varieties need to be tested for vigor and germination in order to determine if they are viable for the next cropping year or if they should be used for livestock feed. We use public varieties of both wheat and barley for both the commodity market and our winter cover crops.

The bottom line is we as farmers have choice - what seed we buy, from which company, and what traits those seeds have. The only time we don't have choice is when we sit on our thumbs and don't order seed in time and end up with 2nd or 3rd choices.