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Our modern seed is resistant to pests and droughts, due to the fact that the seed has been genetically modified to do so. If farmers want to use this seed, I believe they have every right to choose this method. However, after researching the effects of GMOs on our health and planet, as a consumer I have the right to know what foods are genetically modified, so I can make the choice not to purchase these harmful products if I so choose. As a farmer, why do you choose to plant seed that is genetically modified? What additional benefits do you see, besides higher yields and increased profit?


Thank you for your questions. Genetic modification and the age-old methods of genetic selection and crossbreeding have all played a significant role in allowing farmers like me to produce more food for our growing world. These crops are safe and healthy for my family and yours, and I believe they also benefit the environment.

Developments in seed technology have made my crops more resistant to weeds, insects and drought. This means I have to use less pesticides and fertilizer and don't have to turn the soil over as much (tillage) to remove the crop-choking weeds. Sure, that saves me money, but it means I'm also saving soil, fuel and the environment. While organic is a good option for some, those kinds of methods also require more tillage and more land to produce the same amount of food that I do, using more modern production. Every time you have to till the soil, you leave the door open for more erosion. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers have reduced erosion by 40 percent over the last 20 years. Clearly, we want to be able to continue that trend, because it benefits everyone. Improved seed technology has played a big part in getting us there.

One thing I know for sure: farmers like me need to do what we can to feed more people. Our world is very different than the one my grandfather grew food for all those years ago, using the kind of methods you mentioned. According to the U.N., we're going to need to produce 70 percent more food by mid-century, and the experts and scientists agree that it'll take better, more efficient seed (genetics) to get us there. It's also very important to point out that these crops are proven to be just as safe and healthy as food produced in other ways, such as organic. That's been stated by a number of food scientists, including ones at Cornell University and Iowa State University, to name just a couple.

As a farmer, I'm always looking for the best, safest way to grow food we all depend upon. Your family, my family and my future depend on it.

Dave Seil
Gowrie, Iowa
4th generation farmer
husband, father of two


The Iowa DNR was proposing to limit levels of the application of liquid nitrogen. Because much of it flows into the river. A farmer was complaining about the ruling that he'd not be able to keep his production at levels he needed.

Why wouldn't he want to care?


Thanks for your question. I can’t speak for the farmer you mentioned, but I and the vast majority of farmers I know do care about water quality issues related to lost nutrients and soil from our farms. When we lose soil, nitrogen and phosphorus needed for crop production to the streams we can’t get it back. It really means lost potential now and in the future for our families and communities and can create problems downstream here in Iowa and in the Gulf. So it’s in our best interest to protect the soil we have.

Many farmers are doing great things to protect the streams and rivers. Iowa farmers lead the nation in acres planted to buffer strips along streams and are 8th in the nation in restoring crop land to wetlands that can remove nitrates and phosphorus that could end up in the rivers. There are also farmers working with researchers on subsurface bioreactors that can remove nitrates from field tile drainage before reaching the stream.

I, and most farmers, inject nitrogen fertilizers and manure directly below the soil surface or incorporate them shortly after application to reduce the risk of runoff and to maximize their efficiency because it makes no sense to waste such valuable resources. That would be like spending weeks planting, weeding and pruning your vegetable garden, then leaving it all for the rabbits to eat.

I also know some farmers involved in community-led watershed councils that are working together to increase the amount of grassed buffers in their fields, reduce tillage and refine nitrogen and manure applications through performance testing of their management systems. These farmers are all participating voluntarily and investing significant amounts of their own money because they care about their watersheds.

Sure farmers can always do better, and we are. New technologies are improving the way farmers handle and apply fertilizers and manure. I appreciate your interest in water quality and believe that conversations about water quality issues not only inform consumers but also remind farmers that what we do affects the rivers and environment. Most of the farmers I know are open to these discussions because we do care.

Chad Ingels
Randalia, IA
4th generation Iowa farmer
Iowa State University Extension watershed coordinator

I’m concerned about what’s really in the meat I serve my family, so do I have to worry that today’s pork, beef or chicken contains antibiotics? Answer

Absolutely not! Today’s responsible livestock farmers only use short-term antibiotics to treat their animals, if they need it, or for a short time to protect the animal when it's young, much like the way you treat your children during illness or protect them with vaccinations. Under federal laws, no meat or milk products are allowed to go to market with antibiotics in them. In fact, having any antibiotic residue is illegal. So, you can rest assured you’re getting a great tasting, healthy product that is safe for your family’s table…and mine!

Vicki Allen
Union County, Iowa
4th generation cattle farmer
wife, mother

Why don't all farmers grow their hogs outside, in a pasture, in small numbers? How can raising pigs or livestock indoors for their entire life be healthy for the animal? Answer

My grandfather raised pigs outdoors and we’ve benefitted from those lessons and use generations of that kind of experience to make a safer environment both for our hogs and for you, the consumer. My family has learned that raising hogs outdoors can expose our animals to Iowa’s harsh climates, predators and diseases. It also means the manure they leave behind is, literally, left where it lands and that’s not always good for the environment, particularly during a big rain or harsh winter. Raising pigs indoors means we hold the manure in a highly regulated concrete tank, then use that organic product to fertilizer our farm fields in the spring. The way we put that manure on the fields is also different from the way our grandfathers used it; we inject it several inches into the soil, which reduces runoff and odor while providing rich, organic nutrients for the crops.

But the most important advantages of raising hogs indoors means we are able to protect them from many threats, whether it’s from human viruses, or threats from weather extremes or predators. By raising pigs indoors we monitor each pig daily, so we know exactly what they eat, when they eat, and when one pig is getting ‘picked on’ by the herd or needs a little extra TLC.

Mike VerSteeg
Lyon County, Iowa
4th generation hog farmer
husband, father of three

How can industrial agriculture be good for the environment? Answer

Farming does look a bit different today than when my great grandfather farmed, but it’s still a family business and way of life for my wife and me and our four sons, so I do everything I can to protect our natural resources so my sons can farm in the future too.

To do that, I use my years of experience and the latest technology to keep our farm sustainable. Some progress is easy to see, like ‘no-till’; that’s where we leave the stubble of a corn or soybean crop in the field after harvest, to hold the soil in place during the long winter and spring rains. Think of it as a kind of ‘organic umbrella’ that protects the land. More and more farmers are using ‘no-till’ now, to keep our precious black topsoil in the fields and out of the watershed. In fact, ‘no-till’ is just one of several ways farmers today protect the soil. We also use ‘buffer strips’ (grassy strips planted on both sides of a river or stream, which work like a natural ‘net’ to keep soil and fertilizer on the field) and terraces (grassy ‘shelves’ planted into hilly fields to reduce erosion in a field).

Other progress isn’t as visible. With today’s seed and equipment technology, I can now grow more using fewer resources. That also helps sustain my farm and our natural resources.

Jim Brown
Greene County, Iowa
3rd generation grain and cattle farmer
father of four

Why do farmers plant genetically modified crops? Isn't that bad for the environment? Answer

The kind of seed we use today is even better than the kind our grandfathers used; it is pest-resistant, drought-resistant and even requires less fertilizer. That means we can grow more food on the same acre of land…which is just one way we reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ while feeding a growing population. Just like you try to be efficient in your work, farmers also have to become more and more efficient. We know the world’s population continues to grow. In fact, we’ll need to find ways to feed 70% more people in the next 50 years…and technology is the only way we can do that without harming our natural resources. Each farmer today feeds an average of 155 people; in my grandfather’s day, each farmer could feed just 50.

Vance Bauer
Franklin Co., Iowa
8th generation grain farmer

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