|Consultant, Dan Steiner|
Are farmers getting disillusioned?
In the Midwest states like Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, farmers are baffled by a resurgence of corn rootworm that Monsanto technology promised to protect against. A lot of new insight comes from independent farm consultant Dan Steiner whose phone rings off the hook after a storm where farmers face blown over crops because rootworm larvae have destroyed the root systems.
Let it be known that, for awhile, biotech crops did seem to rescue farmers around 2003. Bt corn delivered results with initially satisfactory yields, pest control, and limited chemical use. This has been shortlived, however, and has created more issues than the original problem of decreased crop yields – but still more money for Monsanto in the way of increased insecticide use.
It appears that farmers have gotten part of the message: Biotechnology alone will not solve their rootworm problems. But instead of shifting away from those corn hybrids, or from corn altogether, many are doubling down on insect-fighting technology, deploying more chemical pesticides than before. Companies like Syngenta or AMVAC Chemical that sell soil insecticides for use in corn fields are reporting huge increases in sales: 50 or even 100 percent over the past two years.
This is a return to the old days, before biotech seeds came along, when farmers relied heavily on pesticides.
Likewise, where farmers are experiencing other super growths like resistant weeds, they have to spend more money on old-time agrarian measures to undo the original problem they were urgently trying to prevent. The monsters have come back in greater force, deriving more power from chemical resistance thanks to receiving transgenic material.
Steiner remembers those days and the very real dangers of pesticides:
We used to get sick [from the chemicals]. Because we’d always dig [in the soil] to see how the corn’s coming along. We didn’t wear the gloves and everything, and we’d kind of puke in the middle of the day. Well, I think we were low-dosing poison on ourselves!
Biotech is passing the buck – farmers are either doubling down on chemical use or switching to other GM crops. Steiner has a third option that experts agree is best in the longrun:
Starve the rootworms, he tells his clients. Just switch that field to another crop. ‘One rotation can do a lot of good,’ he says. ‘Go to beans, wheat, oats. It’s the No. 1 right thing to do.’
Entomologist Lance Meinke points out the circumstances driving farmers to continue growing corn year after year:
I think economics are driving everything. Corn prices have been so high the last three years, everybody is trying to protect every kernel. People are just really going for it right now, to be as profitable as they can.
Meinke says anything is likely to turn into a weapon if a crop is repeated like that. But under the circumstances, farmers feel compelled to keep planting and spraying to keep up. In this cycle, it is very likely the chemicals will stop working.
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