GMO- Science, Fear and Facts with Kevin Folta of The University of Florida

Kevin Folta from The University of Florida joins me on JFR this episode. Kevin is an expert on GMO in food production.

Here’s how he describes himself:

I’m a plant biologist. My job is to contribute to the understanding of gene function, then use this knowledge to inform crop improvement. In the long run I hope to guide the development of better plants that produce more nutritious food and with less environmental impact. Undergraduate and public education are a huge part of my program. If we are going to feed the world and save the planet it is going to require bold new technologies and we will need their support. Many fear technology when applied to food, and the skepticism is healthy. However, a dose of unfounded fear is hampering productive progress in adoption of these safe technologies. I hope to use science and evidence to win the hearts and minds of those that are uncertain of the scientific interface with food.

Brian Snyder- Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture

Recently I traveled to State College, Pa for a visit with Brian Snyder. Brian is the Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture. This “trade association”, focuses on education and advocacy. PASA represents the local, sustainable agricultural movement. It is probably the strongest and largest group of it’s sort in the United States. It is unique because it is primarily funded through member support.

Brian is the driving force behind this organization. He has a thoughtful approach to his points a view. He wields much influence within Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry, the Mid- Atlantic and beyond. I consider it an honor that he took time to talk with me. Thank you Brian.

PASA holds an annual Farming for the Future Conference that is really quite spectacular. This year’s 3 day event, held at The Penn Stater Conference Center in State College, PA will be it’s 23rd. The conference is attended by farmers, friends of farmers and folks in the farming industry. It is loaded with educational seminars about sustainable agriculture. The conference is a winter tradition for many east coast farmers and is typically attended by folks from all over the country and in fact the globe. Attendance is in the thousands.

Over my business career I’ve had the opportunity to go to some powerful conventions including The National Hardware and Home improvement Show, once the largest show in the USA, The National Kitchen And Bath Show, numerous Wholesale lawn and garden shows, Electronics shows and more. I can unequivocally say that the positive vibe and approachable nature of this convention is at the top of it’s class. Quite frankly, it’s really cool.

I am not being compensated for this in any way yet I must say if you are interested or involved in the local food movement, sustainable agriculture in general or even just a proponent of simple living YOU SHOULD GO to the PASA winter conference.

Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture- The Start of My Journey to Understand

Jon Entine from the Genetic Literacy Project joins me today to discuss his decidedly pro- point of view on GMO (genetically modified organism) seed and farming. This topic tends to bring strong emotional reactions no matter what side of the argument you are on. According to the USDA over 75% of corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the USA is GMO and the USA accounts for over half of the global production in acres.

It is quite difficult to to get unbiased, trustworthy information about this controversial topic. The extremes seem to rule the information on the internet. The World Health Organization appears to take a fairly centrist point of view, recognizing that there have been no studies to overtly discredit the safety of GMO agriculture yet at the same time acknowledging there could be potential problems. They also have recommended protocols for the companies engaged in the modification process.

As for me, I’m still not entirely sure what I believe on the subject. I have made what I consider the safest choice for now I LIVE IT; I own and opperate a USDA Certified Organic vegetable farm. No GMO seed is allowed.

This episode is the beginning of my journey to talk with multiple people with multiple points of view about the subject of GMO. At some point I’m going to form a definitive opinion.

Each person must make their own choice though and I recognize as a reasonable person, that the arguments for and against are not clear. The unintended consequences that are potentially harmful to the environment appear to be the biggest risks from my point of view. Uncontrolled pollination, what the WHO calls “outcrossing” seems to be a genuine issue. The potential effects of outcrossing or pollen drift, are highlighted in the fight by Organic farmers to prevent contamination by cross pollination.

In another episode I will talk with an anti-GMO person and we’ll get their point of view.

The food industry is fascinating. Thanks for listening to JACK’S FARM RADIO please subscribe at iTunes.

 

Tianna Dupont- Co-op Extension Service

Tianna Dupont of the Penn State Cooperative Extension joins me on this episode for a fun and informative conversation.

The Coop Extension Service plays an integral role in supporting agriculture throughout the United States. If you’re a farmer and you have a problem or question, the extension is a great resource. Folks like Tianna are  the behind the scenes people who make agg. hum.

In this episode of JACK’S FARM RADIO you get a lesson in some of the basic terms, trends and issues of agriculture. Tianna is articulate, thoughtful and quite objective. Listen carefully as she characterizes the word, sustainable, as existing in both the organic and the conventional agricultural paradigms. I think that way of looking at the word makes sense.

As an eater, ultimately, it’s your choice of food that drives the methods that food producers use. Supply follows demand. At the same time food producers, as business people, must constantly strive to maintain and reduce the costs of production. This dance between consumers and producers leads to the innovations we see in agricultural production. The practices and concepts of Integrated Pest Management and No Till are terrific examples of the both the benefits and complex outcomes that drive the agg research – training cycle. While pesticide use has dropped dramatically under the no till concept; the use of Genetically Modified Seed has played a major part in it’s success as a production method.

It may surprise you just how much firepower in terms of people and money are behind the agricultural industry in the United States. There are a ton of federal, state and local programs that are available to farmers at little or no cost to help them stay in business. While this episode does not dwell on them’ here’s a random sampling of the help available to the agg. industry.

The most publicized and as a result, controversial program, is direct farm subsidies.  These subsidies are basically a form of insurance that are pegged to the risk of reduced yield or entire loss of a crop due to weather. Other federally funded programs are research based S.A.R.E. grants, Rural Development grants and grants and loans through the Farm Service Agency’s New Farmer and Rancher program. 

Plus there’s money and services to protect wet lands, build fences, heck even offset costs of greenhouses. Even farmland preservation is, quite frankly, a subsidy of sorts. The support and research that goes into food production is monumental.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide your position on what type and how much help the agricultural industry needs.
Just remember, agriculture is 1% of GDP in the US as of 2011.

I mentioned Tim Stark on the podcast and here’s a link to his book: [amazon text=Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer&asin=B005UVUXKG].

Thank you Tin Bird Choir for my intro and outro music. You can subscribe to JACKS FARM RADIO on i Tunes and please rate the show when you do.