Biotech Helping U.S. Farmers Satisfy Global Demand

Despite challenging year, the nation is producing its second largest corn crop.

Published on: Oct 16, 2008

A dozen farmers from across the state gathered on a farm in central Iowa October 15 to discuss the worldwide benefits of biotechnology. They met with a group of about 30 foreign visitors.

The farmers representing the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) and the Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) gathered at the farm of Gordon Wassenaar at Prairie City. They discussed the future of crop technology with the visitors, who are representatives from 10 foreign countries

"We wouldn't have the crop we have now if it wasn't for biotechnology. Despite devastating flood conditions early in the planting season causing a delay in getting crops planted this year, we are still witnessing strong yields, and we will have a reliable supply for our domestic needs and for our overseas customers," said Wassenaar.

Biotech makes big yields possible

The Iowa farmers spoke to 30 international biotechnology regulators participating in the U.S. Grains Council's International Biotechnology Information Conference. The consistent message delivered to the participants was clear-cut: Without biotechnology we wouldn't be producing the crop we are able to produce today.

"We went from one of the driest seasons last year to one of the wettest this year," said Julius Schaaf, ICPB past chairman and USGC at-large director. "Yet, we managed to have the largest harvest in history, and this year will likely be the second-largest. Given the same conditions 10, 15 or 20 years ago, we would have half the crop we will bring in this year. We have the seed varieties to stand up to stress, insects and variations in temperature."

Farmers reassure their visitors

The participants at the on-farm conference were presented technical, science-based information earlier in the week when they visited Iowa State University, but said hearing from corn growers was reassuring.

"We do have concerns about biotechnology and such but meeting the actual growers of biotechnology-derived corn has eased many of our doubts. The farmers are very sincere. They use the same products for food and feed that they export, there is no difference," said Marcela Jimenez, a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in Costa Rica.

Dean Taylor, ICGA treasurer, thanked the participants for their trust in U.S. farmers. "Thank you for buying U.S. corn. We hope to see U.S. corn exports grow, and we cannot thank you enough," said Taylor. He noted that trade is much more than meets the eye, and he cited the political and economical stability that results from free and open trade.

Helping inform foreign regulators

The conference started Sunday, October 12, and concludes Friday, October 17. The 2008 conference is sponsored by the Iowa Corn Promotion Board and the Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board. Purpose is to inform key individuals involved in establishing biotechnology regulations in their respective countries about feed and food derived from genetically enhanced seed.

"We want the countries that buy grain from the U.S. to make their decisions based on sound science, regarding the biotech regulations they establish," said Ken Hobbie, CEO of the U.S. Grains Council. Hobbie, based in USGC's Washington, D.C. office, took part in the tour and discussion at the Iowa farm.

The conference coincided with the annual World Food Prize symposium held in Des Moines this week.