A farmer from Australia is the 2008 recipient of the Dean Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award. The award was made to Jeff Bidstrup in Des Moines, Iowa, on Oct. 15 during the Global Farmer to Farmer Roundtable. The Roundtable is held in conjunction with the World Food Prize Symposium and related activities held for a week each fall in mid-October in Des Moines.
The organization Truth about Trade and Technology established the Kleckner Award last year, in honor of TATT's founder and chairman—Dean Kleckner. The award seeks to recognize "strong leadership, vision and resolve in advancing the rights of all farmers to choose the technology and tools that will improve the quality, quantity and availability of agricultural products around the world."
Bidstrup lives up to every word in that description. He farms near the town of Warra, in Queensland in Australia. Dean Kleckner is a retired Iowa farmer who served a number of years as president of the Iowa Farm Bureau and then as president of the American Farm Bureau.
Farmers want genetically modified crops
TATT board member and Jamestown, N.D. farmer Terry Wanzek, met Bidstrup three years ago at the first Farmer to Farmer Roundtable. "When I first met Jeff, I was impressed in his energy, enthusiasm and passion. He lives a world away, but I share his frustrations with bans based on political science, not real science."
Wanzek, a wheat farmer, has dealt with trade bans on GM (genetically modified) wheat; for Bidstrup, the challenge was political obstruction for many Australian farmers who wanted to plant GM cotton, canola and other grains.
"We've had biotech cotton for more than a decade," says Bidstrup, who grows grain and cotton on about 12,000 acres in Queensland, a state in northeast Australia. "I immediately saw the difference it made and understood that this was a wonderful technology for farmers."
GM cotton helped farmers overcome pest problems. Bidstrup began to imagine how additional GM research in Australia could help farmers with salinity and drought, as well as reduce chemical usage. But then the anti-GM activists struck his country.
Australian states banned GM food crops
"One of Australia's states (there are six of them) banned GM food crops, then all of them but Queensland passed their own moratoriums in a matter of weeks," says Bidstrup. "There was almost no discussion. We were caught off guard, completely flat-footed."
For a while, nobody did much of anything. "We all thought someone else would take care of the problem."
As professional activists began getting more media attention Bidstrup thought about the future of his family in agriculture. "I have two sons who want to be farmers. I started worrying about their future in this business. I realized that they aren't going to have one unless somebody does something about all of this anti-biotech nonsense."
So Bidstrup founded Producers Forum, a coalition of livestock and grain farmers who work to educate Australians about the benefits of biotechnology and to repeal moratoriums based on ignorance. Earlier this year, they succeeded in persuading the governments of New South Wales and Victoria to lift their bans and came close to convincing South Australia to do the same.
Making progress in getting bans lifted
"We've made a lot of progress," says Bidstrup. "We're going to make even more in 2009 and beyond."
Bidstrup's efforts against moratoriums have not been limited to Australia. He's also offered support to efforts by farmers in other countries, another example of "farmer network leadership and action in its purest form" the TATT board noted.
When Bidstrup learned that he had been named the recipient of the Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award, he noted his honor and delight, but he said it was a journey not traveled alone. "The load has been shared by many, and those people I believe share this award with me. They are the McKays, Kellys, Baldocks, Snookes, Staleys, Fitzgeralds, Crabtrees, Roushs, Prestons, Tribes and many others of the world who have given their all to see good prevail."
The award will be given out annually in conjunction with the World Food Prize. The first recipient in 2007 was Rosalie Ellasus of the Philippines. Truth about Trade and Technology is committed to promoting free trade and agricultural biotechnology through farmer-led educational initiatives that target public officials, opinion leaders, and the agricultural community.