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Farmers Visit Iowa, Share Global Perspective

Farmers Visit Iowa, Share Global Perspective

Farmers from 16 countries and five continents gathered in Des Moines this past fall to share a global perspective on various concerns, ranging from government regulations to new advances in technology.

Governments should empower—not deny—farmers the ability to do their best. That was the conclusion of 16 farmers from around the world who gathered in Des Moines this past October to discuss issues affecting them.

They were participating in the 5th annual Global Farmer-to-Farmer Roundtable sponsored by the Truth About Trade and Technology organization. The roundtable is held in conjunction with the World Food Prize "Borlaug Dialogue" annual symposium each fall.

"With a growing world population, farmers all over the world are depending on better seed and equipment to help them increase production and protect the environment." –Gabriela Cruz, 2010 Kleckner Award winner

One of those farmers was Gabriela Cruz, who manages a 700-hectare farm (1,700 acres) at Elvas, Portugal that's been in her family for over 100 years. The farm includes livestock, corn, wheat, barley and green peas. No-till and reduced till are used on the whole farm. Cruz is passionate about the family farm she and her sisters work and manage on the eastern border of Portugal; the use of soil conservation to combat the erosion that annually tries to steal the land; and access to technology that will allow her to prevail in the future.

Total of 16 farmers from 5 continents participated in discussion

Those passions, and Cruz's drive to change attitudes of European governments that block farmer-access to genetically modified or GM crops, led to her selection as the 2010 winner of the Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award. The award is given by TATT each year at the group's annual meeting in Des Moines. The award recognizes "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 ag products around the world."

The Roundtable is organized by TATT, and supported by the Council for Biotechnology Information, CropLife International and the National Corn Growers Association. Sixteen farmers from five continents participated in the discussions.

The 48-year-old Cruz began planting GM corn in 2006 as a way to reduce her costs for controlling insects. She has reduced use of pesticides and the number of tillage trips by optimizing GM traits in corn. Less tillage is important to Cruz, who is president of Portuguese Association for Soil Conservation. Soil loss in the erosion-prone fields of southern Europe can average 17 tons of topsoil annually.

Need to find new solutions to solve old problems

"Biotechnology offers one of the most promising solutions to many emerging challenges in feeding the world's growing population," says Cruz. For example, the International Panel for Climate Change forecasts increasing dryness for the Mediterranean region where Cruz farms (already water prices have risen 40%).

"Scientists can generate crops that make more efficient use of water, as well as add traits that allow us to fight weeds that compete with crops and suck water and nutrients from the soil," she says. "Yet, these innovations will remain fantasies for farmers in Europe as long as our governments listen to misinformed activists and journalists who crowd out the responsible views of scientists, Nobel prize winners and farmers."

While biotechnology is accepted in her home country, the European Union's resistance to biotech is a challenge. Cruz says her family has seen how GM crops can improve their quality of life, and she wants more of that for herself, her sisters, her workers and the women who farm in other countries. "Around the world, women can't take advantage of biotech because of Europe's hostility to GM crops. This especially affects African women farmers because they are highly dependent on trade with Europe," says Cruz. Growing crops that have no potential market doesn't make sense.

Iowa farmer thankful for availability of biotech tools to use here

Pam Johnson, farming with her family near Floyd in northeast Iowa, was another one of the 16 farmers participating in the roundtable discussion of trade, technology, ag policy and food insecurity. "It was an amazing experience," she says. "It was especially moving to hear the stories, to look into the faces of these farmers and despite the thousands of miles that separate us, we have so many common goals and concerns. We need access to biotechnology and trade."

After talking to farmers from the European Union, Johnson was thankful for her ability to use such tools in Iowa. "We take it for granted that we have the best technology here," she says. "We need to continue to defend it and not allow our industry to be run by perception instead of science."

Policies do indeed direct a large part of how farmers plan their businesses and plant their crops. Profitability and supply-demand issues can't be ignored, she adds. As early adopters of valuable technology, Iowa farmers often find themselves educating consumers, leaders and farmers in other countries about the value and safety of biotech and other tools. For farmers anywhere to be successful, they need access to technology and support from government policies that encourage use of the best farming practices.

What is the Kleckner Award?

The Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award was established in 2007 in honor of Dean Kleckner, chairman of the organization Truth About Trade and Technology. A retired Iowa farmer, Kleckner is a past president of the Iowa Farm Bureau and American Farm Bureau. The award is given annually in conjunction with the Global Farmer-to-Farmer Roundtable. The first winner of the award was Rosalie Ellasus of the Philippines, the 2008 winner was Jeff Bidstrup of Australia, and in 2009 the award went to Jim McCarthy of Ireland.

"There were 16 farmers from five continents who came to the World Food Prize event in Des Moines last fall and who participated in our roundtable discussion this past fall," says Dean Kleckner. "From listening, you can tell there are many challenges to farmers in feeding the world's growing population. They all agree, biotechnology is one of the most promising solutions to help fight world hunger."

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