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Cost of cheap food

I THINK Dana Brook's perspective on farming (Budgeting, WTO and politics driving debate on farm bill, Delta Farm Press, March 10, 2005) is too rigid for the 21st century. Cheap food is good, but producing a lot of cheap food does discount other resources of our nation.

I have heard the statement that crops aren't like other commodities, in that when it gets cheaper people don't eat another meal. Look at the extra weight that this nation is carrying; I think people do eat more when food is cheap.

When you do not value something, you have a tendency to waste it — that is true of food in this nation. We need to have reasonably priced food, but we don't need cheap food.

Dana's grandmother was right and she may be right in the future, but she is not right today — you cannot be considered an economic backbone and rely heavily on subsidized support.

Agriculture can produce reasonably priced food that is diverse and can produce a portion of our energy needs. And agriculture can do this in a manner that does not compromise our other very important natural resources. Healthy soil, clean water, clean air, and wildlife are natural resources that can be produced in abundance and reasonably priced, just like food.

We will be going through a paradigm shift in agricultural support policy, but in the meantime, cheap food remains the current farm policy's one resource rallying cry.
Tim Gieseke
Ag and Environmental Policy Specialist
Minnesota Project
New Ulm, Minn.

Biotech wheat R&D

I FARM in southwestern North Dakota. This area has gone through a change in the past 20 years due in large part to the adoption of technology. The transformation of this region from a half-fallow, half-wheat production system to no-till has resulted in huge gains in productivity. The gains are largely a result of adoption of new equipment technology, new herbicide technology, and new fertilization techniques.

We still rely heavily on wheat in this area and as a result, we have benefited very little from biotechnology. Historically, U.S. producers have remained competitive because of our rapid adoption of new technology. However, because of our region's reliance on wheat as our primary crop, producers have been denied one of the major technological advances of our time.

I believe there's a growing realization that biotechnology will be needed for wheat to remain viable as a profitable crop in this country.

That's why I think biotech wheat R&D must be a fast-track priority. Producers of other major crops have already had a decade of experience with biotechnology. During that time corn and soybean growers have experienced increasing productivity and improved profitability. They now look forward to second generation traits such as drought tolerance, cold tolerance, improved nitrogen efficiency, and new end use traits.

It is now five years since the first moratorium bill on biotech wheat was introduced into the North Dakota legislature. At that time, some advocated a “go slow” approach for commercialization of a biotech wheat trait. But it's clear that wheat is a sinking ship. Go slow and wait, and the wheat production sector drowns, simple as that.

Biotech rice has been commercialized in Iran, and China may soon follow — there are reports that it's already being grown. China has done significant research on biotech wheat, and once a major food crop like rice has gone biotech, there will be little argument left to stop commercialization of biotech wheat, particularly if it's adopted by the world's biggest consumer (China).

An estimated 70 percent of processed food items in our grocery stores already contain biotech ingredients, and those ingredients have been included in more than 1 trillion meals. Yet, there has not been one scientifically documented negative health or environmental effect that can be attributed to biotechnology — safety and acceptance have been and will become less of an issue with each passing day.

The market will develop ways and find solutions to handle biotech wheat. Might we lose an export customer for a short period of time? It's possible, but the overwhelming belief today is that the risks of not pursuing this technology in wheat are far greater. After five years of going slow, I believe now we need to just simply go.
Bruce Freitag
Scranton, N.D.
Past President, ND Grain Growers Assn.
Vice Chair, Growers for Biotechnology

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