Going Biotech on the Farm: Second of Two Parts


I'm Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Farmers from a number of countries were in Chicago recently for a convention of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. The Council for Biotechnology Information offered some of them to the media to discuss the need for new agricultural technologies.

Last week we talked about a farmer from Spain who grows Bt maize. Today we talk about two American farmers.

Al Skogen farms about one thousand six hundred hectares near Valley City, North Dakota. He, too, grows Bt maize. The corn is engineered with a gene from a bacterium poisonous to some insects.

Mister Skogen also grows Roundup Ready soybeans. The Monsanto company genetically engineered this plant to resist glyphosate [gly-FOSS-ate], an herbicide it sells under the name Roundup. The poison kills unwanted plants, but it can also kill crop plants.

Other seed producers make similar herbicide-resistant soybeans.

Mister Skogen says he can now spray one herbicide on his crop two times a year, instead of different herbicides three times. He says he avoids having to till herbicide into the soil before planting.

Mark Williams in West Texas grows more than one thousand hectares of cotton and almost five hundred hectares of corn. He uses strip tilling, a way to reduce the loss of topsoil. Global positioning technology helps place seed along a series of narrow lines plowed into the soil.

Mister Williams grows Bt corn, but he plants about half of his fields with non-Bt corn. This area is meant as a refuge for insects. The aim is to keep them from becoming resistant to the poison made by the biotech plants.

Mister Williams has grown both Bt cotton and Roundup Ready cotton. He says the Bt cotton usually does not need insecticide. And the herbicide-resistant cotton saves on time and labor. There is no need to remove weeds by hand during part of the growing season.

With traditional crops, he says, farmers spend less money at planting time and more on pest control later. He says the biotech seed costs about two times as much as some non-biotech kinds, but it requires fewer chemicals.

Both farmers say one of their biggest goals is to reduce the amount of chemicals they put into the environment. They say they understand that some people do not trust biotech crops. But they point out that the government says these crops are safe.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. Read and listen to our reports at WWW.51VOA.COM. I'm Steve Ember.