Most of the debate about GMOs has focused on transgenic crops in which a gene from one species is inserted into the DNA of another species. With herbicide-tolerant crops, a gene from a plant that is resistant to the desired herbicide is inserted into the genome of a crop like corn or cotton that normally is killed when sprayed with the given herbicide. Similarly, scientists have inserted a gene that induces the production of the toxin produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into a corn plant. The corn plant then produces the toxin and kills European corn borer caterpillars, reducing the need for spraying the plant with an insecticide that would be used to kill the caterpillars, saving the farmer a field pass and the cost of the insecticide. In recent years, as scientists have increased their knowledge of the function of various genes in a given species, they have developed the technology (CRISPR) needed to edit a gene to express a desired trait. In this case a “foreign” gene is not inserted into the organism’s genome, rather the organism’s own genome is slightly modified. At present transgenic organisms are subject to government regulation while gene-editing using CRISPR technologies is not, because the organism does not contain any “foreign” DNA. For a more thorough summary of the technologies and their risks, readers can download “Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects” by the National Academies Press (http://tinyurl.com/j5kvhg7). In the current debate, some have argued that these technologies are little different from conventional breeding which uses a less precise means of selecting for preferred genetic traits in all domesticated crops.
The decline in prices for food and feed crops, livestock and fish products in 2015 signals that “an era of high prices is quite likely over for all sub-sectors,” economists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) say. Developed jointly with analysts at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, the Paris-based OECD projected in its Agricultural Outlook 2016-2025 that most agricultural prices would hold steady over the next decade as productivity continued to increase in most parts of the world.
The demands of agriculture and the price tag for new technology have some developers questioning if there is a looming bubble in the ag tech industry. Aaron Magenheim, CEO of AgTech Insight of Salinas, California says there is a disconnect between developers and farmers. Magenheim says their clients in the Midwest, far removed from Silicon Valley, need to be involved in the creation process so developers can better understand what real, on the ground needs of farmers are.
PETA members dress as nuns at RNC and propose a sin tax on meat. “At the convention, campaigners from PETA donned nun’s attire and stilts. Armed with placards emblazoned with polemical slogans like ‘Meat is a Bad Habit. Tax It!’ and ‘Slap a Sin Tax on Meat!’ the nuns quickly drew attention to themselves. PETA attacks New Mexico FFA members. The campaign casts a shadow on Future Farmers of America, the popular agriculture club for high school students. Written by a former FFA member, the post calls the organization hypocritical for encouraging students to raise and slaughter animals for food, while encouraging good character and leadership. At the end of the article, PETA encourages kids in FFA that agree with it to quit the club and become vegan.”
Insight from 2,020 farmers from across the country reflected enthusiasm for cover crops and—for the fourth year in a row—found a yield boost in corn and soybeans following cover crops. Multi-year data from the survey shows the yield boost increases as cover crops are planted year after year, a revelation that points to an appealing long-term benefit of the conservation practice. The survey offers data unavailable elsewhere, providing a vital glimpse into farmers’ use of and perceptions about cover crops. Acreage planted to cover crops continued its steady rise among survey participants, reaching an average of 298 acres per farm in 2015 and projected to grow to a mean of 339 acres in 2016. Those figures are more than double the acreage survey participants said they planted in 2011.
Farmers in North America are turning back to a neglected crop, sowing fields with the largest rye crop in years as consumers satisfy a growing thirst for whiskey. Rye, planted in autumn and harvested in mid-summer, fell in popularity during the past decade as other crops produced bigger profits. However, with whiskey demand high and new varieties of rye on the market, farmers have regained interest.
Dairy farmers and environmentalists criticized new manure-control rules the state Department of Ecology plans to finalize early next year, accusing state regulators of being too meddlesome or too lax. At the first of two public hearings on the proposal, farmers said dairies already are heavily regulated and that Ecology’s new layer of mandates would be unnecessary, expensive and even dispiriting. Ecology estimates that complying with the permit will cost a dairy between $11,000 and $25,000 over five years. To ease the financial hardship on the industry, the agency plans to exempt from the rules about 100 dairies that have fewer than 200 mature cows. Ecology’s special assistant on water policy Kelly Susewind said the department may consider redrawing the line and exempting more dairies.
urnt River School’s invitation to Portland students paid off, and the rural Eastern Oregon school will host up to eight urban kids when classes begin next fall, and eight more in the spring. “It’s happening,” Superintendent Lorrie Andrews said. The district is arranging places for the students to stay while in school. The school, which had a total of 34 students in 2015-16, offers the Burnt River Integrated Agriculture/Science Research Ranch program, or BRIARR, a dip into the ag and natural resource issues common to the area. The K-12 public charter school is in Unity, Ore., about 50 miles east of John Day. Students will learn about animal production science, sustainable rangeland science and forest restoration studies, and do water quality monitoring with the Powder Basin Watershed Council.
The USDA confirmed the discovery of 22 genetically engineered wheat plants growing in a fallow agricultural field in Washington state. The wheat in question is resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, APHIS said. A farmer made the discovery. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA has found no evidence of GE wheat in commerce.
An Aurora organic farm is suing a co-founder of New Seasons and his son, saying they failed to stop their dairy cows from escaping and defecating on the farm's crops. The $210,000 lawsuit states that the cows belonging to Chuck Eggert and his son, Charlie Eggert, forced neighboring Simington Gardens to throw out its contaminated winter squash and leafy greens and shut down the field for 120 days because of the exposure to manure. The cows got out of a gated enclosure about midnight on April 16, 2014. "Eventually, after several hours, defendants rounded up the cows and returned them to defendants' dairy," the suit states. Simington Gardens was founded by Michael Simington nine years ago, according to the certified organic farm's website. The operation sells produce to grocery stores including New Seasons Markets in addition to Portland-area farmers markets and restaurants.