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Terry Wanzek: Tell the New York Times that GM crops deliver

JAMESTOWN, N.D.--I don't tell reporters at the New York Times how to write their articles. Maybe they should consider not telling me how to run my farm.

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JAMESTOWN, N.D.-I don't tell reporters at the New York Times how to write their articles. Maybe they should consider not telling me how to run my farm.

That was my first thought after reading in the Oct. 29 edition a long article, "Doubts about the promised bounty of genetically modified crops."

The Times may have its doubts, but I have a message from the real world of agriculture: GM crops are delivering benefits. I've been growing GM corn and soybeans for 20 years, and I'm still in awe of this technology.

I'm hardly alone. Farmers everywhere choose to plant GM crops because the crops deliver. It doesn't matter if we operate large farms in the United States or Brazil, or if we're small-time cotton growers in Burkina Faso or India: Wherever GM crops are available, farmers choose them in overwhelming numbers.

More than 90 percent of U.S. corn and soybean acres are GM crops. We don't choose them because they're cool or because seed companies make us. And we certainly don't choose them because they're cheap.

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It's a sound business decision when farmers choose GM crops.

The Times seems to think that we choose them because we're stupid. It claims that we're missing a "basic problem," and that we're wrong to believe GM crops increase yield or reduce pesticide use.

I suppose it's possible that the newspaper is right, and that millions of farmers around the world are wrong.

But I doubt it.

The Times cites its own "extensive examination" of data. I prefer to draw from personal experience.

Like so many farmers, we're always experimenting on our farm. Every year, we're trying new seed varieties and practices on a limited number of acres to see what's working.

We did this the first year we tried GM crops, testing them on a small number of acres. Initially, GM crops had to prove their value to us. This is our own "extensive examination," performed season after season in a quest to do better.

So let me offer an example from last year, when we planted about 3,000 acres of corn. Mostly we chose to grow GM corn. But we also wanted to see how the latest GM corn compares with the latest non-GM varieties, so we set aside about 250 acres for non-GM corn.

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My instincts were that the GM corn would outperform the non-GM corn. But you never know until you try, and I like to keep an open mind. I never want to become set in my ways.

Besides, if non-GM corn were to show an ability to compete with GM corn, I'd like to know - because I could save a lot of money on seeds.

When the harvest came in, the result was clear. The acres with GM corn produced an average of more than 150 bushels. The acres with non-GM corn were far behind, with about 100 bushels per acre.

The scientist in me acknowledges caveats. It's possible, for example, that we selected a lousy kind of non-GM corn and that another type would have done better. Perhaps we picked a strain that wasn't suited to our farm's soil or climate.

But I don't think so. We've experimented on our farm for nearly four decades - and in that time, we've become convinced that GM crops deliver benefits to us and consumers.

They've also been good for the environment. Because of GM crops, we've been able to eliminate a number of tillage passes over our fields each year, saving fuel and wear and tear on machinery.

Not needing to drive our tractors as much as we once did means we're emitting fewer greenhouse gases and leaving a smaller carbon footprint.

That's my story. I suspect millions of other farmers have their own versions. If they didn't, they wouldn't flock to GM crops as they do.

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The next time the New York Times reports on agriculture, it should make sure the news it prints includes the full views of the people who grow the crops: Farmers.

Wanzek grows wheat, corn, soybean and pinto beans on a family farm in North Dakota. He represents Jamestown in the North Dakota Senate and volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network.

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