The writing was on the wall. It had become clear to my partner Tammy and I that we would have to make some drastic changes if we wanted to continue to successfully raise quality fruits and vegetables on our farm. Changes in weather patterns combined with multiple pesticide drift incidents clearly required that we seek alternative growing strategies.
Stepping away from our farm, we see that agriculture in the United States is reaching a tipping point. The writing is on the wall for an agricultural system that relies too much on pesticides. The efforts of Bayer/Monsanto to continue pushing new Genetically Engineered (GE) corn that is resistant to five different herbicides is counterproductive and discourages the change that must happen.
A simple answer: Change is hard
Why did it take our farm so long to begin to adapt when it was clear that we needed to do something?
Our farm has had its share of successful crops over the years. We use a wide range of techniques including complex rotations, cover crops, pollinator strips, cultivation, mulching, and intercropping. We like to think that we are willing to be innovative and, on the surface, that seems to be true. But, when it comes down to it, we resist change — even if we know it has to happen. When you would rather not change, it is not all that hard to find excuses to delay.
Change requires us to climb new learning curves and it can make us feel uncomfortable. We make mistakes as we adjust and we certainly reserve the right to be unhappy about being forced to adapt. We even feel a bit of resentment that the ‘old methods’ no longer provide the same rewards.
But, that doesn’t alter the fact that we must move on rather than cling to past success.
Herbicide-resistant corn is not what farmers need now
Weed scientists are sounding the alarm that the current model for weed control will not be viable for much longer. It is time to step off of the pesticide treadmill and move to farming systems that use diversified weed and pest control systems.
Unfortunately, Bayer/Monsanto's desire to push yet another product that promotes the old chemical-driven system only encourages farmers to wait, rather than be proactive and address the new realities in agriculture. Contrary to Monsanto’s claims, the new GE corn is not about giving farmers more choices, it is about capturing market shares and supporting large conglomerate farming operations rather than the skilled individuals and families who farm. Apparently, it is more important to continue selling herbicides for weed control than it is to encourage farming practices that are tailored to the needs of each farm.
We all should have known better, because once there is a claim that there is a ‘silver bullet’ in farming, it only means the disadvantages are not readily apparent. Herbicides and GE seeds merely push the costs elsewhere. Pesticides have helped to build a farming culture that has forgotten that these are dangerous tools whose negative impacts are not confined to the applicator and the target crop. These tools are responsible for chemical trespass, genetic drift, human health concerns and environmental damage. They have limited and overshadowed alternative innovations in farming and diverted resources for research that could have resulted in effective alternatives.
And now, after several decades of chemical-intensive agriculture, farmers are about to pay some of those costs with painful transitions being forced on them by herbicide-resistant weeds.
It is time to move on
It is important that we recognize that most commodity crop farmers will need to make some difficult changes as the system that has dominated agriculture runs out of time. Many of the answers we need to make those changes are known, while others are being developed, and all of them require dedication, skill and resources to make them work.
This is not going to be easy for farmers. But, we can do them a favor by removing the temptation to delay their transition to other models. We can say ‘no’ to additional herbicide-resistant GE seeds.
The new GE corn and its resistance to five different herbicides is not what farmers or the rest of us need right now. This is why PAN, Friends of the Earth and the National Family Farm Coalition worked to collect over 33,000 signatures opposing the introduction of this new seed. We must make changes to our farming systems now, because waiting only makes things harder.