U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says his agency’s consideration of restrictions for biotech alfalfa should not be a concern to Iowa farmers who plant genetically-engineered corn and soybeans. The U.S.D.A. is considering new rules for the location and cultivation of hay fields planted with Roundup Ready alfalfa.
“What we’re having is a discussion and a conversation to try to take the courts out of determining who gets to farm and who doesn’t get to farm,” Vilsack says.
A federal court in California ordered the U.S.D.A. to consider the economic and environmental problems organic growers encounter when their fields are next to a field where Roundup Ready alfalfa is planted. Vilsack is inviting organic farmers and traditional farmers who embrace genetically-modified seeds to have a conversation in his office to try to resolve the disputes.
“This is a very complicated discussion and one that probably should have taken place a long time ago,” Vilsack says. “We’ve seen a rapid adoption of biotechnology in alfalfa and many other areas of agriculture. At the same time we’ve seen a substantial expansion and growth of organic productionm, We want both of them to survive and both of them to be profitable and we want both of them to sort of co-exist in the same neighborhood.”
Vilsack suggests coming up with a plan that both sides can embrace may put an end to the parade of lawsuits which have been filed, challenging the planting of some genetically-modified crops, like alfalfa and sugar beets. Organic growers complain their crops are compromised by cross-pollination from a neighboring field where genetically-modified crops are being grown.
“How can we get to a point where I get to farm and you get to farm and a judge can’t say to you, ‘You can’t farm the way you want to farm,’ or the judge says to me, ‘You have to stop doing what you’re doing,'” Vilsack says. “That’s not good for agriculture.”
Genetically-modified or “biotech” crops were introduced in the U.S. in 1996. According to the U.S.D.A., 90 percent of the corn and 96 percent of the soybeans planted in Iowa in 2010 were a genetically-engineered variety.
“We need the biotechnology. We need the capacity to produce more on less — the capacity to use less pesticides and chemicals and water in an ever increasing demand globally for food,” Vilsack says. “At the same time, this organic operation is very profitable. It can help small farmers stay on the farm. It can help repopulate rural communities and there’s a greater consumer demand for it, so we need to figure out how to do both.”
Vilsack made his comments during taping of the Iowa Public Television program, “Iowa Press,” which airs Friday night at 7:30.