Eco-Lessons from the Farm: GMO Corn & Pollinators

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

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Corn Field VT

Eco-Lessons from the Farm: GMO Corn & Pollinators

EcoBeneficial! went on a working vacation to Vermont this summer and visited some organic farms, including River Berry Farm in Fairfax, Vermont.  After you finish this post watch my short video interview with organic farmer and pollinator advocate, Jane Sorensen, co-owner of River Berry Farm, to pick up some tips.

My encounters with forward thinking organic farmers who embrace nature and support pollinators, got me thinking.  As gardeners and landscape pros, what can we learn from these folks who are successfully growing crops while supporting the environment?

The dark side of mega-farming has come under scrutiny in the past few years – the mass spraying of crops, especially corn and soybean, with glyphosate, the key ingredient in the herbicide RoundUp.  More and more farmers are opting to use genetically modified seed that is “RoundUp Ready.”  This enables farmers to spray their entire fields of corn or soybean with glyphosate, killing any and all plants on site, except for their valuable crop.

Organizations like the Xerces Society have raised a red flag, pointing out that common milkweed, a critical host and nectar plant for Monarchs, has been devastated by this practice.   No milkweed, no Monarchs – these migratory, flying miracles have a hard time avoiding the bread basket of the United States on their long journey.

How about those other “wild plants” that are eradicated by this wholesale herbicide spraying?  Back in the day, farmers used to tolerate many native “weeds” like Joe Pye Weed, Ironweed, Fireweed, Fleabane, Tickseed, as well as native plants without unfortunate common names.  Farmers allowed these valuable nectar and pollen plants to grow along field edges and in-between field rows.

This native “wildness” is no longer tolerated by BigAg and those critical wildflowers are gone in those landscapes.  Goodbye to critical nectar and pollen resources for our 4,000 species of native bees, honey bees, beneficial insects and other valuable creatures.

GMO corn and the spraying that accompanies it is clearly detrimental to the environment. There are also serious questions being raised about the effects of GMOs on human health.  Nonetheless, approximately 90% of field corn is GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms), and the majority of that is subject to broad-scale spraying.

Field corn is different from the sweet corn that you enjoy on the cob.  In fact, field corn doesn’t taste very good eaten fresh – it’s used for processed foods, animal feed, ethanol and other products.  Although you may not be noshing on an ear of field corn, you are likely getting a good dose of it in processed foods, including  those with high fructose corn syrup.

What about sweet corn – that tasty summer treat?  The agribusiness giant Syngenta has been marketing GMO sweet corn for over a decade with lackluster success.  Not to worry, Monsanto decided to try its luck selling its little miracles of science: the glyphosate-tolerant GMO Seminis® Performance Series™ corn, in three tempting varieties: Passion II, Obsession II, and Temptation II.   (One has to wonder if the Monsanto marketing team is suffering from the effects of too much glyphosate ingestion).

So far, GMO sweet corn has not been a big hit and represents only a small percentage of all the sweet corn offered on grocery shelves.  Companies like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and General Mills have agreed not to sell it.  But Walmart has decided to buck the trend and sells GMO sweet corn, with no federal requirement to label it as such, to inform their customers.

Can we actually grow corn organically, glyphosate-free and insecticide-free, and support pollinators and the ecosystems they are part of?  Well, yes we can, and farmers, like Jane Sorensen of River Berry Farm, are showing us how.  Watch this video clip with Jane to learn more.  You may get a few ideas for your own landscape or your clients’.

From Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

 

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