Jerry Davich: Farmer plants seeds for GMOs education
JERRY DAVICH February 9, 2014 7:26PM
Larry Bucher, a Northwest Indiana farmer, favors genetic modification of crops and is alarmed at the push to get rid of them. “It would eliminate 20 years of technology gains and thrust farmers back to the less environmentally friendly farming methods of the ‘70s and ‘80s," he said. | Jerry Davich/Post-Tribune
Updated: February 9, 2014 8:04PM
Larry Bucher typically harvests the same crop of questions from strangers, acquaintances and dinner party guests.
Once they learn he is a farmer, they begin planting their seeds of curiosity, which often grow into suspicion about the same hot-button topic. Their conversation goes something like this: “What crops do you grow?” followed by “Are any of those crops genetically modified?”
That’s usually when the trouble begins and when Bucher educates people one by one about hybrids, organics and genetically modified crops, or GMOs, short for genetically modified organism, whose material has been altered by genetic engineering.
“The passions on both sides of the GMO food debate run really high,” said Bucher, of Valparaiso, who farms 1,150 acres of both genetically modified and non-genetically modified crops in Porter, LaPorte and Jasper counties.
“The amount of misinformation on the Internet is staggering,” Bucher told me. “The two sides are at polar opposites and neither gives any ground towards the middle.”
Plus, conspiracy theories surrounding the GMO seed producers have seeped into mainstream conversations by people who know too little about this issue, including me.
For example, the spread of rumors about super-seeded crops which harvest a potentially dangerous byproduct affecting food. It’s called 2,4-D, a powerful herbicide that some new high-tech crops are engineered to be immune to.
I once wrote about this after talking with a third-generation farmer from Lowell who plants on 2,800 acres but, like the touchy topic of GMOs, I learned that education is key.
This is precisely why I am writing about GMOs after reading an opinion column written by Bucher and published in The Farmers Exchange. (Read his column in its entirety at http://farmers-exchange.net/detailPage.aspx?articleID=13453.)
Bucher is in favor of GMOs but in that farming forum, “It’s like singing to the choir,” he admitted.
He took a non-traditional route to farming after following his fascination with Wall Street to a very successful 13-year career in New York City. In 2005, Bucher and his wife, Sherry, returned to this region to not only raise their children but also his first crop.
“I helped my neighbor on his farm for a couple of seasons and my passion for agriculture reignited,” said Bucher, who owns 850 acres and also farms his parent’s 350-acre farm. “It is my passion and I plan to farm as long as I can physically do it.”
After a winter of relative downtime on his farms, his wife is already anxious for him to head back to the fields.
“I think she is tired of my stories concerning how little people know about the food they eat,” he said.
This point has always fascinated me considering our nation’s obvious love affair with food, eating and dining out. Yet, collectively, we remain ignorant about what goes into our bodies and the governmental mechanisms that regulate the food industry.
For instance, are you aware of what is being labeled as the most overlooked “mega bill” of this past year? It’s the nearly $1 trillion farm bill that just received final approval from the U.S. Senate and now heads to the president’s desk to become law.
The sprawling bill will set food, farming and eating policy for the next five years, encompassing what farmers grow, what we eat and how food is labeled. Yet I’m guessing this is the first you have heard about it, right?
“Why am I writing this when I would rather be bloodying my knuckles preparing my corn planter for spring?” Bucher wrote in his opinion column. “It is because the growing trend towards ‘right to know’ legislation is about to hit everyone who eats right in the pocket book.”
OK, now you have our attention. We may not care what goes into our bodies — just look at us — but we certainly care what goes out of our wallets.
“More often than not, people are unaware of the differences between hybrids, genetically modified and organics,” Bucher said. “I have learned the hard way that the first thing I need to do is establish common ground on just what genetically modified means to the questioner.”
Genetically modified foods are those that are derived from organisms whose genetic material, or DNA, has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, he noted.
“Do you know how many vegetables or lettuces in the produce section of your local grocery are genetically modified? Potentially two,” he wrote. “Do you know how many fruits are genetically modified? One, the Hawaiian rainbow papaya.”
Read the labels on processed foods to see if they contain corn and soy, he suggests.
If they do, they likely have a small amount of genetically modified content because corn, soybeans and cotton are the three major genetically modified crops.
“Typically over half of the dinner party guests think all food is genetically modified, but they are mistaking genetically modified with hybrids,” he wrote.
“If I cross-breed a cucumber plant that has high yields with another breed that seems to do better in dry weather, that is a hybrid,” he wrote. “Creating better and better hybrids is something man has done since he first cultivated the earth.”
Bucher notes that we have had genetically modified crops in our foods for 18 years. But critics of genetically modified food would like to rid the world of these seeds.
“Doing so would eliminate 20 years of technology gains and thrust farmers back to the less environmentally friendly farming methods of the ’70s and ’80s,” he wrote.
GMOs allow farmers to use less herbicide, fewer pesticides and less water and diesel fuel, as well as release less carbon into the air through reduced tillage, he insists.
“The dinner party guests do not like it when I tell them that,” he notes. “It does not fit in with their green lifestyle choices.”
Agree? Disagree? Join the discussion on my Facebook page and blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.