Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance Applauds Congress in Passage of GMO Labeling

The Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance applauds Congress for resoundingly passing bi-partisan legislation to federally preempt a possible piecemeal assortment of state laws addressing labeling of human food and animal feed created with biotechnology-enhanced ingredients.

The Alliance was part of a broad coalition of agricultural producers and trade organizations that supported the legislation drafted by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS., and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-MI. The legislation, if signed by the President, would preempt Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law in favor of a uniform national standard that would provide an efficient mechanism for consumers who wish to know more about food products, including the biotech content of food. Through the Robert’s Stabenow Bill, easy access to this information will be disclosed on products without forcing other consumers to incur exponential increases in food costs related to labeling compliance costs.

A national program for labeling of biotech food is needed to maintain efficiencies in supply chains starting at disruptions and inefficiencies in production and moving through storage, transportation, manufacturing and distribution of food and feed. Disruption of existing systems could translate into significant cost increases for consumers. The Alliance has been part of the effort to develop a reasonable national approach to food labeling for over a year and supported the U.S House approach to food labeling that was developed in 2015. Now that Vermont’s food labeling law has come into effect the Senate bill is preferable to further delay, or the uncertainty created by the Vermont approach to food labeling.

The Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance is a 300-member organization representing feed, seed and fertilizer companies and other agricultural input providers in New York and New England.

Genetically Modified Crops: Tools to Protect the Environment


Why do farmers choose to use GMO seeds? What do they see as the benefits that impact their decision to adopt GMO technology? What has led to the rapid global adoption of GMO seed?

Opponents of GMO crop production suggest heavy pressure from seed companies and the inability to save seed  from GMO crops have skewed farmers’ decision making towards adoption of GMO varieties. Is it possible industry influence has  led to a 90% adoption rate of corn, soy and cotton GMO seed use, or are there other factors at play in farmers decision making?

Tony Lapierre of Chazy, New York is the fifth generation on Rusty Creek Farm, milking 500 cows and managing 1200 acres of land to grow feed for his dairy herd. Tony was an early adopter of GMO technology.

“We started using GMO crops pretty early,” said Lapierre. “I saw my neighbors using them and their results convinced me the GMO crops did what they were supposed to.”

Water Quality

The use of GMO technology allows farmers to use “no-till” farming; planting seeds directly into grass sod without plowing. As unwanted grass and weeds  grow up around crop seedlings,  they can be eliminated because GMO technology protects the crop fromherbicides.  With no-till planting, by leaving the sod in place over soil, there is reduced run-off of soil sediment carried in rainfall and snowmelt.

“GMO crops are better for my soils,” Lapierre said, “they let the soil environment  act like a sponge and  hold water.”  Using GMO crops to maintain a sod cover also improves water conservation by giving fields greater soil organic matter and increased water holding capacity.  Lapierre remarked “I use the GMOs to help improve my soil organic matter, it is really important that water stays on the field and doesn’t run off.” As farmers increase adoption of soil and water conservation practices GMO crops are an important tool.

Energy Use

GMO crops often require less energy use by farmers. The use of GMO crops reduces the need to plow soil, greatly reducing tractor fuel necessary to prepare fields for planting. If fields are plowed they also require harrowing, a second tractor step to smooth the soil in preparation for planting. Both plowing and harrowing require significant horsepower to drag heavy equipment through the soil.  Lapierre observed “I save a lot of money by using GMO crops; they take less tractor trips over the fields, also less tractor traffic means I don’t compact the soils and they can hold more water.”

As fuel prices fluctuate regularly, decreasing the time and money spent on tractor operation decreases crop production costs considerably. By reducing the fuel used to prepare fields and spray crops for pests GMO the technology has significantly reduced the release of fuel and soil greenhouse gas emissions from crop production, which, in 2010, was equivalent to removing 8.6 million cars from the roads.

Pesticide Use

GMO soy, corn and cotton fall into two broad categories:  herbicide resistance and resistance to pests such as the corn root worm. Before the wide spread adoption of GMO crops farmers used carefully chosen combinations of herbicides or pesticides to maintain the productivity and health of their crops.  With the advent of genetic engineering, crops are able to mount their own defense against pests, often eliminating the need for costly sprays and extra trips through the field to apply them.

“We use way less pesticides then we used to.  Compared to my father and grandfather I have really reduced our pesticide use,” Lapierre said. “With GMO crops the protection gene is there and available if we need it.”Lapierre also said if he has a mid-season weed problem the GMO crops allow him to use glyphosate, a pesticide with low residue concerns, to control it.

GMO technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 443 million kg (-9.1%) and, as a result, decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on these crops (as measured by the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ)) by 17.9%.

Farmers use tools that work.

It took a span of nearly 90 years from the first use of a tractor in a farm field for the “wheeled horse”  to replace the hooved horse on US farms. By contrast, in the 18 years since GMO traits have been commercially available in soy, corn and cotton, nearly 90% of all US acres have been planted to the seeds.

Obviously both farmers and the consumer market place saw the benefits of GMO seed use. It might be possible to fool a farmer one year about the value of a new idea-but you will not fool them a second year. The livelihood of farmers and their families are on the line. Farmers’ choice of crop production methods impacts the water they drink and the long term health of their fields and herds; their income is determined by the value of their crops and they live in the midst of what they plant. Farm families make choices about chemical use and production practices based on a combination of monetary, environmental and health impacts.

The smell of fall is upon us…

By: Louise Calderwood, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance

The smell of fall is upon us; ripe apples, wood smoke, fallen leaves and….manure! Wait-manure-that doesn’t fit this list of wholesome odors, or does it? Why do farmers spread the sloppy liquid? Aren’t there ways for farmers to manage manure from their livestock that reduces the impact on roadways and water?

Chris Wagner of Green Dream Farm in Enosburg Falls, Vermont is one of a growing number of farmers turning to new ways to manage manure. Wagner milks 375 cows and supplies milk to St. Albans Creamery who in turn supply Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Until the spring of 2014 he managed the 3.4 million gallons of manure and wash water produced each year on his farm by using large lagoons to store the liquid until it could be spread on fields used to grow forages for the dairy herd.

“Manure is a valuable resource for our farm,” Wagner said in a recent interview. “We hire a custom machine operator to spread it according to a management plan developed specifically for our fields.”

With financial assistance from NativeEnergy, a Vermont based renewable energy technology company,  Wagner installed simple screw press equipment to separate manure solids from manure liquids. The solids are composted and reused as high quality, sanitary bedding for his cows. Excess solids are sold to other farms for bedding creating a moderate income stream for Wagner.

“The cows really like the composted bedding,” Wagner said. “It is super absorbent and very comfortable for them to lie on.”

Wagner recognizes the potential for manure to pollute water if it runs off farm fields and into rivers and streams. Phosphorus carried in the manure causes algal growth that robs the water of oxygen needed for aquatic life and can lead to blooms of toxin producing blue-green algae.

“I am part of the community,” Wagner said, “protecting water quality is everyone’s job, not just the farmers.” Wagner recognizes the obligation he has to protect water quality, “I manage a lot of land so I have more of responsibility to be careful about runoff.”

The Green Dream Farm Methane Reduction Program recycles phosphorus on the farm in the composted bedding, reduces the volume of manure that moves over roadways, and reduces methane emissions from managed manure. Extracting the solids and spreading only the liquid portion of the manure reduces the amount of phosphorus applied to the fields by 20% and reduces the total cost of manure spreading.

In addition to the manure separator, Wagner protects water quality by managing liquids released from stored feed and maintaining buffers of grass with no manure or fertilizer application between his fields and water ways. “I test the manure and soil to be sure the right amount of manure or fertilizer is spread on each field.”  Rye is planted on cornfields in the fall to hold soil in place during the winter months. Wagner is also considering farm changes to protect water quality, “I would like to plant more of the farm to grass,” Wagner said; the potential for soil run off is very low from grassed fields. He said “I am looking in to applying manure directly into the soil or close to the ground with a nozzle.”

Some farms manage manure with bacterial “digestion” to reduce odor and capture methane to burn for electricity generation and others are composting directly in the barn through the addition of large volumes of bedding under the cows.

One theme is constant across all livestock farms: manure is money and farmers don’t waste it. It is clear farmers recognize their role in protecting water quality and appropriate manure management.

Eat Smart to Eat Safe


Louise Calderwood, Northeast Agribusiness Feed and Alliance

Food production practices in the US are under increasing scrutiny from the public for myriad reasons ranging from climate change to obesity. The impact of federal agricultural policy and dietary implications are often rolled together in a confusing mish mash of jargon, opinion, and competing scientific facts. At the center of this noise stands the American farmer, using the best combination of practices for their soils and climate to grow wholesome food at a profit that supports their family.

Marjorie Urie of Shadagee Farm in Greensboro, Vermont, a 180 cow dairy selling a combination of commodity milk and farmstead cheese, often finds herself in the bull’s eye on food production issues.  Marjorie, married to Brett Urie, is the mother of three children ranging in age from 14 to 21. Marjorie stated, “We grow safe food and we are proud of what we do.”

The Urie’s utilize many conventional tools such as pesticides and GMO’s to manage their dairy herd and grow the animals’ feed.  “I get tired of being attacked for using safe practices,” Marjorie said. “We have the most regulated food supply in the world. The animals and vegetables we grow in this country are safe.”

Marjorie is committed to healthy diets and the impact of food choices on wellness. She is particularly concerned about the obesity she sees in the local school system in Hardwick, Vermont. “We have worked hard in the schools to educate children about healthy food choices,” she said. The Uries are part of a group of farms that have worked with classes of children to grow potatoes, squash, onions and carrots. “The children came to the farm three times a year to help with planting, hilling and harvesting the potatoes; it really made them appreciate the work that goes into growing quality food.”

Marjorie said “We grow the healthy food; it is the consumers job to make smart food choices, that isn’t up to the government to decide for them.”  She lamented the cost and health impacts of eating processed food, rather than easily available healthy choices. “The problem isn’t the difference between organic food and the food I grow with modern practices,” Marjorie said. “The problem is the choice to eat chicken nuggets instead of a simple chicken leg.”

Animal Feed Manufactures Support Water Quality Efforts


Louise Calderwood, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance

The winter snow is gone, spring rain is falling and farmers are busy preparing fields for the upcoming forage growing season. The animal feed industry is working side by side with farmers to reduce soil run off and protect water quality. In the northeast, the focus of water quality is on phosphorus.

Farmers are Water Quality Stewards

Farmers are the primary stewards of soil and water in the northeast as they maintain large undeveloped tracts of land to produce forages to feed their herds. Animal feed companies and other input providers such as seed and fertilizer companies collaborate with farmers and provide valuable assistance in planning and growing crops. By maximizing appropriate production practices for locally grown forage crops, farmers reduce their impact on water quality and import less phosphorus from outside the region.

Phosphorus Management

Phosphorus enters waterways from sewage treatment plants, lawn and roadway runoff and pet waste. It washes from farm fields attached to soil particles. As the nutrient builds up in the water it promotes algae growth the robs the water of oxygen needed to support aquatic life. Appropriate soil tillage and grassed buffers along farm fields reduces the amount of soil, and therefore the amount of phosphorus, that leaves farm fields and runs into surface water.

Minimized Impact from Animal Diets

To meet the nutritional requirements for growth and lactation livestock need carefully balanced diets to support health and productivity. The best sources of these nutrients are high quality forages such as grass, alfalfa and corn grown to provide the protein, energy and minerals her body demands. A common misconception is that animal feed companies push farmers to supplement locally grown forage crops with imported grains. In truth, grain companies encourage farmers to make up as much of the herd’s diet as possible from forages grown nearby, only using grains to supplement what is needed to keep animals healthy and farmers profitable.

Feed companies often partner with universities and seed companies to host forage crop demonstration trials. By growing new varieties of forage crops side by side farmers can choose the best forage types for their management style and growing conditions. Monitoring soil fertility and forage quality allows farmers to balance animal and plant needs with water quality.

Careful Manure Management

Careful use of manure and commercial fertilizers to maximize local forage production reduces the import of phosphorus into the region in animal feed grains and lessens the overall impact of agriculture on water quality. Commonly grown northeast forage crops contain less than 0.3% phosphorus while common grain ingredients imported into the region contain 0.7% to 1.10% phosphorus. Highly trained nutritionists emplyed by feed manufacturers formulate diets specialized to each stage of an animal’s life to maximize locally grown forages and minimize the import of phosphorus heavy feeds onto farms from outside the region.

By maximizing use of high quality, locally grown forages combined with modern nutritional guidelines, farmers and the feed industry are partners in protecting water quality.

Global Diets are Changing


Louise Calderwood, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance/ Monsanto

Determining the amount of food that’s required to feed the world is more complicated than it might seem. We can’t just increase production by the same percentage that the population is increasing, for several reasons.

To begin with, food is not a resource that is evenly distributed. In more affluent, developed areas food tends to be accessible and relatively affordable. In the poorer, less developed areas, there are still millions who go hungry and malnourished. Approximately 16% of the U.S. population faces food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as a lack of access by all members of a household to enough food for an active, healthy life.

And then there are the rapidly developing nations such as China and India. As people in those countries become more prosperous, they are able to buy not just more food, but also more protein. Since cows, chickens, pigs and other animals require multiple pounds of feed for each pound of meat they produce, a modest increase in the demand for protein is actually a huge increase in the demand for grain, water and land.

Another hurdle to meeting the world’s food demand is the huge technological gap between farmers in developed countries and those in developing countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia—the two areas where populations are growing the fastest—most farmers still work without access to the best agronomic practices and technologies, including more advanced seeds. This is due in part to barriers such as government regulation, lack of infrastructure and training.

Meeting the evolving global demands for food is more comlex thatn growing more food.

Corn-wonder crop or ecological disaster?

Louise Calderwood, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance

Corn: the much maligned, biologically remarkable crop has single handedly changed the face of global agriculture. From its beginning as the teosinte plant cultivated about 10,000 years in what is now central Mexico, corn has evolved into a genetically diverse source of food, animal feed, andenergy stock. By- products of corn processing serve as the growth medium for penicillin and a resin source for industrial adhesives-increasingstrength and reducing cost. Even the  bubbles in carbonated drinks are derived from corn.

Why is corn so often at the fore front of controversy in farming practices?

Crop inputs Corn responds to a balanced diet and health care the same as any living thing-it increases its rate of growth.  In the early 1900’s rural boys entered  “corn contests” to increase crop yields  and prizewinners were awarded gold watches and trips to Washington, DC. Jerry Moore of South Carolina raised 238 bushels of corn on a single acre of land in 1910 when the national average was about 32 bushels to the acre. Over the next 100 years national yields skyrocketed. In response to genetic improvements and fertilizer use the current national average is about 145 bushels of corn to the acre.

Water quality While young Jerry Moore was able to reach amazing yields in 1910, today’s farmers balance corns’ ability to respond to fertilizer with water quality protection. Rain can carry soil and fertilizer from corn fields into water ways.  Farmers carefully monitor corn fertilizer needs and protect soil from erosion by planting soil holding crops on bare corn ground for the winter season.  Many farmers no longer plow ground used to grow corn, further decreasing soil run off. Ongoing research assists farmers in developing farming methods to protect soil and water quality.

Obesity The US is experiencing an obesity epidemic.  Some scientists hypothesize that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)  consumption has uniquely contributed to the increasing weight of the U.S. population. The truth is that sugar is sugar, no matter the form and we eat too much of it. Based on the currently available evidence, an expert panel of the Center for Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture Policy convened in 2007 concluded that HFCS does not appear to contribute to overweight and obesity any differently than do other energy sources. As a nation if we want to address obesity we need to focus on food choices, exercise and portion control. Concern over sugar from corn is a red herring distracting vital public resources from the real causes of US obesity.

GMOs  Genetic engineering has reduced pesticide and herbicide use in corn production. By providing corn with traits to protect itself from pests and allow the use of rapidly degraded herbicides, farmers are able to reduce chemical use in crop production.  Over 3,200 renowned scientists worldwide have signed a declaration in support of agricultural biotechnology and its safety to humans, animals, and the environment. In the US 95% of the corn crop is grown from genetically engineered seed. That means over 2,000,000,000,000 meals have been consumed containing genetically engineered food without a single substantiated ill health effect.  That’s right-2 trillion meals and not a single problem.

US farmers are proud to use the best tools available to produce wholesome, affordable food with minimal impact on soil and water quality. For the past 100 centuries corn has been essential to capture the sun’s energy to provide needed calories for humans and their livestock. Thanks to modern farming practices the efficiency of this amazing crop is greater than ever.