By Tim Burrack – Arlington, Iowa
I’ve been growing sweet corn for more than 40 years--and this summer’s sweet corn is the very best I’ve ever eaten.
Perhaps you weren’t expecting this bit of good news amid all the bad news about corn. The nationwide drought has ravaged this year’s crop. I can certainly share plenty of horror stories: Most of my corn is in poor shape.
Want to hear me complain about the drought? I didn’t think so. Let’s accentuate the positive: My sweet corn was excellent this year.
For the last few summers, I’ve set aside a small field for sweet corn, giving it a little extra attention because I donate the harvest to my church. The church ladies use it for a big social event, deliver it to shut-ins, and give it the community.
So I put a little water on my sweet corn--just enough to help it beat the dry heat.
Yet there’s another important reason why the sweet corn was so good: Biotechnology was the essential ingredient.
For the first time in my area, I had the opportunity to grow genetically modified (GM) sweet corn. Before long, however, it’s going to be everywhere: Wal-Mart recently announced that it was willing to carry this new product.
And that’s really good news.
Today, more than 85 percent of the corn grown in the United States already benefits from biotechnology. These crops possess a remarkable ability to fight weeds and pests. Over the last 15 years or so, they’ve revolutionized agriculture around the world. We’re growing more food on less land than ever before.
GM sweet corn isn’t new. It has actually been on the market since 1998. The sweet corn you buy in grocery stores and at roadside stands is less than 1 percent of the overall corn market but uses 40% of all insecticides used in corn production. GM sweet corn helps reduce insecticide use because it has some of the traits found in the field corn I grow that becomes animal feed, corn sugar, and biofuel.
But now biotechnology is coming to sweet corn--and you’re going to taste the difference.
For me, growing GM sweet corn on my farm was an experiment – I didn’t know how it would perform. I’ve grown biotech field corn for years, so I was confident that GM sweet corn would be a high-quality product. But you never know until you try.
Long before biting into GM corn on the cob, I could see a difference. As soon as the plants started to sprout in the field, it was obvious: The stalks were strong and the kernels clean. There were no weeds in the rows, robbing moisture. I didn’t even have to worry about insect pests like rootworm or the corn borer. The plants resist them naturally, thanks to biotechnology.
When I’ve grown sweet corn in the past, I’ve struggled with both weeds and pests. The only way to begin to control them was through chemical sprays. Non-GM sweet corn usually requires two or three applications of herbicide and one or two of pesticide. My GM sweet corn, however, needed just one pass of herbicide--and the result was far better.
It’s an example of less equaling more--the very definition of sustainable agriculture. What a tremendous benefit for everyone.
Best of all was the taste. Corn farmers say that healthy plants produce healthy ears and healthy ears produce healthy kernels. GM sweet corn is a healthy product down to its roots--and the final proof rests in the fact that it’s so delicious.
The enemies of biotechnology oppose every innovation in agriculture, and now they are of course turning their attention to the advent of the next GM sweet corn product. People who want to keep GM food out of their diets, however, have a simple solution: They can choose to buy organic. Any food that is labeled organic by definition is not a biotech product. These people have a choice in the products they choose to purchase. Why can’t I?
My experience growing GM sweet corn was a good one. It’s an outstanding food. I loved it and so did the folks at my church. I am confident you will too. We can thank biotechnology for making it possible and Wal-Mart for making it available.
Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm. He volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org