The history of RoundUp and my life on the farm
Part 2 of a series
The reason that I am sharing my history of RoundUp and life on the farm is that I and several family members and Commstock clients and friends participated in the filming of a documentary on the safety of RoundUp/Glyphosate. A documentary producer from California, Ariana Victor, and 3-man film crew spent most of a weekend here filming discussions between farmers, seed dealers, a farm manager, health care practitioner, a water quality specialist, and Corn Growers board member on the topic of RoundUp, safety and what its use means to the ag sector.
They also visited our family CAFO, Royal Beef, which was the first time they saw “steers” on feed. They were amazed that there were 400 people living in Royal, Iowa and 8,000 steers on feed. They expressed surprise that the “steers were smiling at them when fed”. Smiling steers is a requirement at the CAFO. If the steers do not smile, nobody is smiling.
The recent lawsuits in California won by plaintiffs, who receieved massive financial awards levied on Bayer, has inflamed a major controversy. The plaintiffs allege that their cancer was caused by contact with RoundUp. Ariana Victor came here to Iowa to get “our side of the story”. That is not a side that they get in California. As a general statement they know pretty much nothing about farming in Iowa and it will take longer than a few-hour layover here for them to fully understand the culture and/or our agronomics. The group of locals that they interviewed discussed their life experience in Iowa, in farming and in their professions. I did not know what they were going to say about RoundUp so it was interesting to me to hear their perceptions and what they think that RoundUp contributed to farming technology. They all did a fantastic job of advocating for our industry.
I learned a few things. One of the first widely used herbicides of the Green Revolution was atrazine. Unlike RoundUp, atrazine had a long life in the soil before breaking down. It had to be used at low levels for grass and broadleaf control in corn or it would carry over to kill soybeans the next year in a corn/soybean rotation. That length of time spent in the soil meant that you could easily find it contaminating groundwater. RoundUp however, lasts just a few weeks and is gone so is rarely, if ever detected, in surface or ground water. RoundUp therefore eliminated a much less safe more toxic herbicide. RoundUp was not even on the list of concerns of our water safety specialist. RoundUp is considered benign in terms of toxicity in the family of crop pesticides. That is why after two rounds of approval testing with the EPA under two different sets of scientists 15 years apart as well as by Health Canada there is no more warning on the label than there is.
U.S. agriculture has led the world in food production at the sharp point of the sword advancing use of technologies that have boosted farm productivity to avoid global famine. Among the technologies adopted by U.S. agriculture are mechanical, chemical and crop genetics. Today we have tractors that steer themselves, guided by GPS systems that allowed nearly half of my corn to be planted at night. Precision Agriculture is essentially science-based Agricultural methods of tillage, soil, seed, pesticide and fertilizer practices…mapping fields for micro-management allowing us to produce a maximum yield relative to inputs from each acre.
When I started farming in 1973 many still moldboard-plowed soybean ground. Tillage opens up the ground to wind and water erosion. It results in moisture loss, opens the ground to weed germination, trims the roots of crops during cultivation, uses more fossil fuel to run machines and generally results in reduced yields. It is essentially how organic farms operate. It is 1960’s technology.
Organic farm productivity is less productive than current technology so that it cannot meet the challenge of feeding the world. It would require much additional use of fossil fuel and the clearing of land for crops which would intensify climate change. Would you like to go back before air conditioning, before cell phones, the first cassette tapes, first computers, first oral polio vaccines, oral contraceptives, first ultrasound and on and on? Why in hell then would anyone think that farmers should retrofit their farms to 1960s technology?
The average U.S. corn yield in 1965, according to ISU, was about 80 bpa. Last year in 2018 the average U.S. corn yield was 176.4 bpa. We have increased our corn production 120 percent per acre with adoption of technology. We do that with much reduced soil and wind erosion and a smaller carbon imprint than back then. We till less to the point of no-till which sequesters carbon which is a buffer to climate change. Average annual rainfall and the intensity of rainfall events have significantly increased in the Midwest and were it not for minimized tillage, soil loss would be much higher. RoundUp contributed to that.
Another technology is the genetic modification of crops which is integrated with RoundUp herbicide in production Agriculture. Instead of all plants in contact with RoundUp being controlled, scientists were able to breed resistance to Round-Up into crops so they can be sprayed and not be harmed by the herbicide.
Jimmy Kimmel asked random people what GMO stands for and few if any had a clue other than that they heard they were bad. They label food ‘Non-GMO’ where there is no GMO food in existence because they know that there are idiots out there that will then be attracted to purchasing their product if told that it is Non-GMO. It is a marketing ploy. Organic production has nothing to do with genetics but that industry has adopted a Non-GMO policy in order to benefit from the false GMO narrative as well. They hope to create fear in consumers who have no idea what GMOs are, intending that will drive them to their product. Over a third of consumers do not think that GMOs are safe. That has been proven to dominantly be the case because they actually do not understand the science. When taught the science, then nearly 70 percent of consumers say that they would definitely eat GMO food in a U of Rochester study of undergrads. No fixing the other 30 percent.
The Series on Round Up and my life on the farm will continue next week.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
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