Monday, June 15, 2015

Spraying Isn't Dousing

Earlier this week, on my Foodie Farmer Facebook page, I shared this post of me spraying in my vineyard.


I've never had a post reach this many people. With over over 9,000 people reached and nearly 50 shares,it is obviously something people are interested in and hopefully want to learn more so figured it was worth a blog post for further discussion.

First, when we spray, we don't "douse". The definition of "douse" means to drench or to pour.... which is exactly what we are NOT doing. Second, ALL pesticides (fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides) whether they are organic or synthetic have a "rate per acre" which is the concentration they should be mixed and applied to be effective against a target pest. Third, all pesticides (fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides), whether organic or synthetic have a "carrier". A carrier is the means by which a pesticide is conveyed or transported. Most typically this carrier will be water.

In this picture above, I am towing an air-blast or fan sprayer with a 500 gallon tank. My goal in getting good coverage through the entire canopy of my vineyard is to apply 50 gallons per acre. So I can cover 10 acres with a full tank. I don't have 500 gallons of pesticide in this tank, I have mostly water, almost a gallon of a liquid chemical, and about 50 pounds of 2 dry/powder organic pesticides..

So let's look at this more closely....

In this tank, I used 2 fungicides to protect my vineyard from powdery and downy mildew, amongst other things. I mixed OMRI (organic approved) Sulfur at 2 pounds per acre, OMRI listed Copper at 3 pounds per acre. I also sprayed the synthetic insecticide Intrepid at 12 ounces per acre.

I stink at math so feel free to check my calculations but here is what I mixed:

I will cover 10 acres with this tank so need the right concentration in order for the product to work:

2 lb sulfur (its what we call WDG or wettable dry granular) x 10 acres = 20 pounds

3 lb copper (also granular) x 10 acres = 30 pounds

12 ounces Intrepid (liquid) x 10 acres = 120 ounces (8 ounces shy of 1 gallon)

So the dry products will displace some water because of their density, and of course the 120 ounces displaces at least 120 ounces of water in my tank, so to estimate, I'm adding approximately 495 gallons of water to 5 gallons of product (I did not do the Archimedes calculation, this is my ballpark estimate from having 15 years as a pesticide applicator and then erred on the side of caution and rounded down).

So in dilution i have a full tank of 64,000 ounces of solution to apply across 10 acres.
1 acre is 43,560 square feet, so I have 435,600 square feet to cover with my tank.

Total tank mixture: 64,000/435,600 = 0.146 ounces of solution per square foot is applied.

Of that:

Total Intrepid: 120 ounces/435,600 = .00028 ounces per square foot applied.

Total sulfur: 20 pounds/435,600 = 0.000046 pounds per square foot applied.

Total copper: 30 pounds/435,600 = 0.000069 pounds per square foot applied.

With fungicides in fruits and vegetables, we are spraying to protect the foliage because diseases that impact the health of the leaves will result in fruits and veggies that don't ripen. The leaves function to convert sunlight into carbohydrates to give the plant energy. Without healthy leaves, the plant can't send enough carbs to its "produce" to ripen.

When I spray with the fan-sprayer in the vineyard, I'm using a higher rate per acre than we would use in our corn or soybeans.


The sprayer above is used in our tomatoes, green beans, wheat, corn and soybeans. We are spraying at the 15-20 gallons per acre rate for herbicides or if the crop including our vegetables needs a fungicide, we are spraying at the 30-35 gallon per acre rate.

Its a 750 gallon tank so using 15 gallons per acre, this sprayer can cover 50 acres per tank. This equals 2,178,000 square feet.

750 gallons x 128 ounces in a gallon = 96,000.

96,000 ounces in that spray tank /2,178,000 square feet = 0.04 ounces per square foot.

This is pretty far from "dousing".......

So let's look at these labels a little closer.

Pesticide
Class
OMRI/Synthetic
Signal Word
Re-Entry Interval
LD50 (rat oral)
Sulfur
Fungicide
Organic
Caution
24 hours
2000 mg/kg
Copper Sulfate
Fungicide
Organic
Danger
48 hours
30 mg/kg
Intrepid
Insecticide
Synthetic
Caution
4 hours
5000 mg/kg
Glyphosate
Herbicide
Synthetic
Caution
12 hours
5100 mg/kg

The signal word is indicative of acute toxicity to the person who is mixing the product.

The re-entry interval is the time between application and when someone can go into that field to work without have to wear protective equipment.

The LD50 is a specific measure of acute toxicity by some means of ingestion - oral, inhalation or dermal absorption.

Make no mistake, these all are pesticides. Whether a product is organic or synthetic is irrelevant. Both are toxic and how it is derived does not necessarily make one safer than another. Pesticides are by definition toxic to something, they have to be or they would not be pesticides. The "cide" part of the compound word "pesticide" is derived from the Latin word meaning "to kill", so fungi"cide", insecti"cide" and herbi"cide" are all by definition toxic to some class of pest. That does not mean that they are universally toxic to everything. Not all insecticides kill every bug, not all herbicides kill every weed. Some are targeted, some are broad spectrum. Don't make assumptions about what we are using without asking or you might be wrong.

And be careful what you are doing yourself. According to the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service"Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops, and they spend more per acre, on average, to maintain their lawns than farmers spend per agricultural acre." More often than not, homeowners are not wearing the mandatory protective equipment that is specified on every pesticide label, exposing themselves and others unnecessarily. Homeowners are more likely to "douse" because you may spray until the liquid drips off the plant. Exactly what we farmers don't do....

Part II: Spraying not dousing

I posted this blog this morning. This afternoon, I was back in the vineyard with my weed sprayer. I control the weeds under the vines to reduce the competition for nutrients and moisture. My sprayer has 2 nozzles, one on each side of the row, so I am doing what we call "band" spraying, a 4 foot strip, 2 feet on each side of the row, not spraying the entire vineyard floor.

I happen to have a paper towel in the cab of my tractor so I put it on the ground.

Unsprayed paper towel


Sprayed paper towel below my nozzle.

You can see my single nozzle above the paper towel. 

Because this is spraying and not dousing, I do not need to soak the paper towel. I drove the same speed past the paper towel as i would had I been spraying weeds. If you look closely, you will see that it is orange speckled. above. Below is a closer up pic.

A closer look at what a spray pattern looks like, it is not doused.

This is it. Those orange speckles are all the 6 inch by 12 inch paper towel received as I sprayed over it. The plants do not get "doused". There is no dripping off of chemical solution. They do not need to be soaked in herbicide to achieve good weed control. There is no saturation. There is no dousing.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Farming Techniques Do Not Belong To One Farming System

The subtitle to this blog is "Synergistic Farming: Using the best practices from all farming systems".

For folks who want to put our family farm "in a box", we are a conventional farm.

For folks who are of broader minds and philosophies, or can conceptualize that conventional does not equate to "bad", then we are a "synergistic" farm.

If you have followed me for any length of time, you know I talk a lot about farming systems, sustainability, conservation, and biotechnology. The practices that we use are a melding of various techniques often credited to one type of farming system or another. Rather than holding ourselves to a certain set of "rules" or limiting the tools we are able to use, we choose to practice and maximize the synergies from taking the best of organic, conventional and biotechnology in order to make our family farm as sustainable as possible.

First, let's look at what I mean by farming systems:



The chart provides a brief illustration about the "main" concept behind each farming system. There is certainly broad overlap between  these main "concepts" within each of the 3 farming systems. All 3 systems can use precision agriculture, the latest technology to reduce inputs and be more prescriptive toward each crop. All 3 systems can use modern plant breeding to enhance desired traits in plants however "genetic engineering" or "GMO" are restricted from use in organic agriculture. Conventional and organic plant breeding takes place either by traditional crossing, hybridization, or radiation or chemical mutagenesis. All 3 systems can use techniques that address and enhance soil health.

Typically what you hear in the media is that one system has cornered the market on "soil health" or another system has cornered the market on "precision agriculture".

Today, family farms use the synergies that each farming systems offers to maximize sustainability.

Today, those "farming system" lines are far more blurred.



Today, there is significant cross over between the 3 farming systems. This is what I mean by "synergistic" farming, a melding of the best each system has to offer. The chart about shows what our family farm practices. When we had about 100 acres certified organic, we did not change the way we farmed because we have been using cover crops, green manures, crop rotation, conservation tillage, and IPM for decades. To us, these are just standard operating procedures, they aren't "organic" practices. We followed Rodale's no-till organic recommendations by rolling our cover crops with a buffalo chopper and then no till seeded corn into the residue. It was a mess. The corn yielded 47 bushels per acre as compared to 110 bushels per acre in our conventional corn that same year, both dry land or unirrigated. Other years we would rotary hoe and cultivate numerous times to control for weeds but soil disturbance is soil disturbance and not something we like to do here in our Chesapeake Bay watershed. Disturbing top soil encourages erosion. Wind and rain take sediment away from disturbed top soil. Phosphorus is adsorbed to sediment so when sediment moves, so does phosphorus. The extensive tillage and yield loss in our organic field led us to choose to be synergistic rather than purely organic for the sake of being certified. For us, it was the most sustainable choice we could make.

By doing what's best for our fields, we are focused on soil health, enhancing the soil profile without excessive tillage, practicing more conservation not less, choosing the safest most effective pest control as possible whether its "natural" or "synthetic". Just because a product is organic or natural, does not make it nontoxic. Sometimes, a synthetic product is safer than an OMRI approved product. Again, that's determining for our family farm, the synergies that work in our environment and in our soils.

There is no "one" system that is "best", There is no "one" way of doing things that should be done carte blanche by every farmer, everywhere. There is no "cookie cutter" system that should be applied to every farm. What we farmers should be doing is maximizing the synergies of all best management practices that meld together the best for our soils while preserving our inputs and natural resources.

Family farms continue to move along the sustainability continuum and are fundamentally changing "farming systems" so that the synergies of each best management practices mean we do not fit into a cookie cutter mold of a certain "type" of farm.







Thursday, March 19, 2015

Nutrients Are Pesticides: The Dose Makes The Poison

Most people find it odd that I am a Registered Dietitian who is licensed as a commercial pesticide applicator. I actually find it quite advantageous because what I studied in my nutrition degrees both undergrad and grad school, applies across multiple biological systems, not just human systems, but soil and plant systems too. Because I have a solid understanding of the science of nutrition, I therefore have a solid understanding of the science of pesticides. Many of the nutrients I studied as an RD, have applications as pesticides.

Paracelsus was correct when he coined the term "The dose makes the poison". 

First, lets start with some definitions:

Nutrient: "Chemical substances obtained from food and used in the body to provide energy, structural materials, and regulating agents to support growth, maintenance and repair of teh body's tissues. Nutrients may also reduce the risk of some diseases" Whitney & Rolfe, Understanding Nutrition, 9th edition (yes I know, my copy is dated. This is the one I used to tutor undergrads during grad school, not my copy as an undergrad!)

Pesticide: A pesticide is a chemical used to prevent, destroy, or repel pests. (EPA)

Any chemical can be toxic, whether its natural or synthetic, depending on how much you eat, drink or absorb. Nutrients are the chemicals make up of food. 

Nutrients in high doses work as pesticides to control bacteria, fungi, molds and mildews, mainly in fruit and vegetable crops. Nutrients are typically used as protectant fungicides, meaning they are used proactively before disease appears to protect the foliage of the plant. Remember from high school biology how important photosynthesis is in the growth and development of a plant? Without foliage, or if foliage is damaged from mildews, a plant cannot photosynthesize efficiently. Photosynthesis is the process that converts sunlight into energy (carbohydrates). Photosynthesis is required for fruits and vegetables to ripen. Without sufficient foliage on the plant, grapes wouldn't ripen and turn sweet, tomatoes wouldn't turn red, watermelon wouldn't get sweet and pink, strawberries wouldn't turn red and sweet. Fungicides, in the form of nutrients like sulfur, copper, zinc, and manganese protect the plant in advance of any disease. They are not "treatments" and do not work after a plant has developed a disease, they only work to protect the plant from developing the disease. 

First, let's look at the recommended dietary intake of nutrients for humans:


Nutrient
RDA
UL
Major functions:
Zinc
8-11 mg/d
40 mg/d
Cellular metabolism
Protein synthesis
Wound healing
Cell division
DNA synthesis
Manganese
1.8-2.3 mg/d
11 mg/d
Activates many enzymes that are critical to metabolism, bone development, and wound healing.
Copper
700-900 µg/d
5000-10000 µg/d
Critical in the function of enzymes that control energy production, connective tissue formation, and iron metabolism.
Sulfur
No RDA-Metabolic
breakdown of the
recommended intake for
protein and sulfur amino
acids should provide
adequate inorganic sulfate
for synthesis of required sulfur-containing
compounds.
No UL
The body does not use sulfur as a nutrient by itself. Contributes to protein structure. Acts as a bridge between amino acids in hormones like insulin.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.

Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL): maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects.


Next, let's look at the recommended application rates of these nutrients as pesticides as approved by EPA:

Pesticide
Rate/Acre
Oral LD50
Controls For:(grapes/tomatoes)
Zinc
3-4 lb/acre
1400 mg/kg
Phomopsis, Black Rot, Botrytis, Downy Mildew
Manganese
1-4 lb/acre
5000 mg/kg
Anthracnose, Early Blight, Late blight, Bunch rot, Downy mildew
Copper
0.75 – 1.75 lb/acre
1847 mg/kg
Downy Mildew, bacterial spot, anthracnose,
Sulfur
3-20 lb/acre
2000 mg/kg
Powdery Mildew, spotted mite, red spider mite.

For comparison purposes - Vitamin D is highly toxic with an LD50 of 10 mg/kg, whereas table salt (sodium chloride) has an LD50 of 3000 mg/kg.

What is LD50?

Oral LD50An LD50 is a standard measurement of acute toxicity that is stated in milligrams (mg) of pesticide per kilogram (kg) of body weight. An LD50 represents the individual dose required to kill 50 percent of a population of test animals (e.g., rats, fish, mice, cockroaches). Because LD50 values are standard measurements, it is possible to compare relative toxicities among pesticides. The lower the LD50 dose, the more toxic the pesticide.
A pesticide with an LD50 value of 10 mg/kg is 10 times more toxic than a pesticide with an LD50 of 100 mg/kg.
We went from milligrams per day as a recommended dietary allowance to pounds per acre to control for disease. The vastly escalated dose converted these nutrients from dietary healthfulness into effective pesticides. 
You can see, although these pesticides are "natural", as in nutrients, they are still toxic. By definition, a pesticide must kill or control something. 
There is no such thing as a nontoxic pesticide. 
Here is a good graphic that depicts the toxicity of natural versus synthetic pesticides:
Sense About Science
If this topic is of interest to you, I recommend these excellent additional readings:
As an RD, I know these nutrients are essential for health and wellness in our diets.
As a pesticide applicator, I know these pesticides are essential for the health and wellness of my fruit and vegetable crops.
The nutrients in your multi-vitamin are not toxic but these nutrients are not edible at the pesticide dose.
The dose makes the poison. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dietary Guidelines & Sustainability: 25 Years Late To The Party

As both an RD and a farmer, I've been following the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's (DGAC) work with great interest. Since Thursday's release of the committee's recommendations for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, there has been much chatter on social media about what's "in" (cholesterol & caffeine) and what's "out"(saturated fats, added salt & sugar). But my real interest is in their inclusion of "sustainable diet" in their recommendations, so I downloaded Chapter 5 hoping for "something new" to the discussion of food production as it interplays with nutrition and health. I was most disappointed. I'm really taking off my RD hat and looking at this chapter from a farmer's perspective.

I think the dietary guidelines advisory committee is 25 years late to the party.....

Congress addressed sustainability in the food and farming system as far back as the 1990 Farm Bill. Under the law of the 1990 Farm Bill, the term sustainable agriculture means

"an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having site specific application that will, over the long term:

  • satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends.
  • make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • sustain the economic viability of farm operations
  • enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole."


From what I read, the DGAC did not acknowledge the 25 year old Congressional definition anywhere in the chapter on Food Sustainability and Safety. Instead they offered a modified Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) definition:

"Sustainable diets: Sustainable diets are a pattern of eating that promotes health and well-being and provides food security for the present population while sustaining human and natural resources for future generations.

Food Security: Food security exists when all people now, and in the future, have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life."

The document continued by offering the following graphic:

Source: Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Chapter 5, Food Sustainability and Safety
This graphic is interesting when compared to the 1990 Farm Bill definition because it basically mirrors what was implemented 25 years ago. What the DGAC is saying is we now need to move toward sustainability in  these new dietary guidelines.

What the DGAC is missing is that US farmers have already been moving along the sustainability continuum. We got the message 25 years ago and have been doing our due diligence to ensure that our food and farming system is both resilient and sustainable. 

So over the last 25 years, what has happened in our food and farming system to improve sustainability? According to the USDA annual Agriculture Resource Management Survey (ARMS)
  • Use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides has been declining in recent years, due to improvements in technology. 
  • Adoption of "best management practices" (BMPs) in fertilizer use (rate, timing and application method to conserve the resource and maximize plant uptake) has increased. A full 35% of all cropland has met ALL 3 nutrient BMPs, and a significant portion of remaining cropland has some BMP practice implemented.
  • US Farmers have increase resource efficiency, producing more food on less land with fewer inputs.
  • There are 96 million acres of cropland planted in no-till farming systems and that percentage has been increasing over time at a rate of 1% per year (Howard G. Buffet Foundation).
  • According to the Conservation Tillage Information Center, 109 million acres of the 239 million acres of US cropland practice conservation agriculture. 
  • As a result of conservation tillage, soil health has improved. Erosion has declined, microbial life has increased, and we are on track to making continuous quality improvements as a whole. 
Source: The Food & Agriculture Organization

These statistics were confirmed by the metrics analyzed by the Field to Market report which looks at national sustainability trends in US agriculture (also not referenced by the DGAC). Which perhaps behooves the question: were the experts were not aware that the 1990 Farm Bill defined sustainable agriculture, and why did they not use the plethora of data and statistics on sustainability practices from the agency charged with implementing the Dietary Guidelines (USDA),

But you ask, what about livestock? This is the crux of what the DGAC focused on in their call for American's to lower their meat consumption. That a meat-based diet consumes more resources than a plant based diet. 

Source: Animal Agriculture Alliance
There has been great improvement in the resources animal agriculture once used compared to today's production. Farmers and ranchers are producing more food with less resources than in decades past. While the DGAC fingers agriculture, specifically livestock, as contributing "up to 30% of human-generated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the data shows otherwise: 

Source: USDA Economic Research Service
According to the EPA "Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2012",  agriculture represents 10% of the GHG contribution. Where did the DGAC get 30%? Obviously not from the EPA. 

So am I saying that agriculture isn't a factor in the loss of resources? No, we're part of the problem, as is all human activity. We are also part of the solution.

Am I saying that agriculture has done its part? No, we have more to do. Science and research will direct the way for us to continue along the sustainability continuum. 

Am I saying that the DGAC should not consider sustainability in the dietary guidelines? I think that if this section of the recommendations remains in the final guidelines, it will need to be validated by experts in the field of agriculture and sustainability.

So I applaud the DGAC for the work they have done. It was no doubt a huge undertaking. As an RD and a mom, I appreciate the emphasis on eating more fruits and vegetables, increasing whole grains, things that we have known and continue to strive for. But I am disappointed in their lack of recognition of how far agriculture has come in the last 25 years moving our food and farming system greatly along the sustainability continuum. Sustainability is part of our daily lives on our family farms. As I blogged about last summer, Stewardship is our middle name. The DGAC came a little late to the party.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Writer's Block

I have several topics I've started and deleted this month. Nothing is flowing. I don't write unless it flows. If someone wants to lob a question or suggest a topic they want me to write about that may unstuck my writer's block, I'd be appreciative :)
Jennie

Monday, December 29, 2014

GMO versus NonGMO: The Cost of Production

Recently I was asked to answer a question on GMO Answers regarding what the productions costs are comparing GMO and nonGMO crops. For my family farm, that specifically means corn or soybeans. The hay including alfalfa, tomatoes, green beans, and grapes have not been genetically engineered, they are "conventional" or traditional hybrids from other means of plant breeding.

Answering the question in terms of costs necessitates the entire picture of yield and price per bushel, otherwise a farmer would have an incomplete picture by which to make business decisions that impact the sustainability of the family farm. The other critical piece that folks don't seem to grasp is the market demand in various regions. Farmers grow what there is demand for, plain and simple. What markets are available in our region and the products they want from farmers. Economics 101. We don't grow what we can't sell. For us, there is greater demand for GMO derived feed and imgredients than there is for nonGMO feed and ingredients. Strange isn't it? You haven't heard that before have you? The media would lead you to believe otherwise, but the media aren't connected to the farm community or its markets. If you are believing only what you read in the media, then you are not seeing the entire picture, just a very small slice of their pie, so to speak.

The data below is our data, no one else's data. We can't make sustainable business decisions based on hypotheticals or someone else's data. We make decisions for our farm based on our outcomes and experiences. These figures are not everyone else's figures. These figures do not extrapolate to our neighbors or farmers in other regions or states. These figures are what drives our decision making and choices for the coming year. If the market changes, we change our decision making process. If yield or costs change, we change our decision making process. In the end, our goal is to have healthy soils producing healthy foods and have a sustainable family farm to leave for the next generation.

GMO vs NonGMO Production Comparison

Will Rogers is credited with the quote: "The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn't still be a farmer."  Optimistically, each winter we review our harvest data comparing our crop yield by variety to our cost of production for that crop that season, in consideration of the type of growing season we had, in order to decide what seeds to purchase for the coming season.

Since 1998, we have been growing both GM and non-GM corn and soybeans. (We don’t actually use the term “GM” or “GMO” since all domesticated crops have been genetically modified, but am using the acronym for the sake of this audience). We run the numbers ever year for every variety and every crop because that’s the only way to run any successful business. We collect the data on what worked and what didn’t work and make changes and improvements or what many businesses call “continuous quality improvement.”

2014 Corn Production Non-Irrigated

Cost Per Acre
Non BT Corn
BT Corn
Seed
$65
$114
Fertilizer
$123
$123
Herbicide
$40
$21
Crop Insurance
$40
$40
Fertilizer Application
$7.50
$7.50
Planting
$28
$28
Nitrogen Application
$9.50
$9.50
Pesticide Application
$9.00
$9.00
Harvest
$28.00
$28.00
Hauling
$25.00
$25.00
Drying
$60
$60
Land Rent
$150
$150
Total Cost of Inputs
$585/ac
$615/ac
BPA=bushels per acre
186 BPA
221 BPA
Current cash price/bu
(Salisbury, MD)
$4.01
$4.01
Gross Income/ac
$745.86
$886.21
Net Income Difference
$161
$271


2014 Soybean Production Non-Irrigated

Cost Per Acre
Non-GMO for Food
GMO for Feed
GMO for Seed
GMO High Oleic

Seed
$41
$53
$53
$53

Fertilizer
$21
$21
$21
$21
Herbicide
$40
$18
$18
$18
Crop Insurance
$32
$32
$32
$32
Fertilizer application
$7.50
$7.50
$7.50
$7.50
Planting
$20
$20
$20
$20
Pesticide application
$18
$18
$18
$18
Harvest
$28
$28
$28
$28
Hauling
$9
$9
$9
$9
Land Rent
$150
$150
$150
$150
Total Cost of Inputs
$366.50
$356.50
$356.50
$356.50
Bushels/Ac (BPA)
35 BPA
50 BPA
50 BPA
55 BPA
Price/Bushel
$12.25
$9.60
$11.50
$11.25
Gross Income
$429
$480
$575
$619
Net Income Difference
$62
$124
$219
$263

The first year we planted Bt corn was 2000. As you can see from the chart below, it has out-performed conventional corn every single year. What is most noteworthy however, is the importance of its performance in unfavorable growing years.  We had drought conditions from 2010-2012. A healthy crop is a more productive crop and in bad years, that can make the biggest difference to the financial sustainability of the family farm. I previously had included our organic corn data in this chart but have since removed it. We grew conventional, biotech, and organic corn simultaneously but stopped our organic production in 2011. It average was below 50 bushels per acre and makes a very poor comparison. We decertified our organic ground and for that reason, I no longer include the data.

Corn (non-irrigated)
2000
2004

2010
(slight drought)


2011
(drought & hurricane)

2012
(drought)
2013
2014
Biotech  Acres
10
276
573
397
464
290
275
Avg Yield BPA
171
182
110
44
111
214
220
Conventional Acres
647
415
195
213
261
75
200
Avg Yield BPA
165
167
91
18
57
202
186
Biotech/Bt
Yield Advantage
6.4
15
19
26
54
12
34
Price/Bu
$2.35
$2.55
$5.18
$6.47
$7.40
$4.41
$4
Net income difference
Due to yield
$15.04
$38.25
$98.42
$168.22
$399.60
$53
$136

Likewise in our soybean production history, we have consistently experienced a better yield in our GM soy over our non-GM soy. We grow four “classes” of soy: soy for food, soy for feed, soy for seed, and a specialty GM bean High Oleic (HO) acid beans. The HO beans go for feed but the oil that is extracted is used in baking and frying which eliminates the trans-fatty acids from using hydrogenated soybean oil as an ingredient. These beans are kept segregated and true to their variety in order to have the highest quality HO oil from the extraction process.

Soybeans (dryland)
1998
2000
2005 
2010
(slight drought)
2011
(drought
& hurricane)
2012
(drought)
2013
2014
Biotech Acreage
195
322
416
270
522
527
200
300
Yield bu/a
54.2
50.3
53.5
46
37
43
48
55
Conventional Acreage
156
184
213
306
750
675
175
100
Yield bu/a
48.2
43.2
46.3    
36
34
36
25
35
Yield Difference
6 bu
7.1 bu
7.2 bu
10 bu
3 bu
7 bu
23
20
Price/Bushel
$6.90
$6.62
$7.25
$11.30
$12.52
$14.55
$13.55
$11.25
Income Difference/
Acre
$41.40  
 $47.00  
$52.20
$113.00
$37.56
$101.85
$312
$225

Even when there is a premium involved with growing a non-GM grain, due to better yields, GM has out-performed non-GM on our farm every year. We have experienced higher yields in all of our GM crops in the nearly 17 years we have been using the seeds. We grow what we have market access to sell in our region. Our choice to buy seed is based on the success of various seeds we have tried and well as University research conducted in our area. We don’t pay attention to data that comes from other growing regions in the US because it generally isn’t relevant to the conditions we experience. We use a “prove it” mentality in that we will give a seed a try on a limited number of acres and do our own compare and contrast to our other fields. Our decision making is balanced by diversity of the markets we can access, the demand within those markets, and the productivity that we have seen for ourselves to justify which type of seeds to plant each and every year.

As I said at the beginning, these are our costs and our production figures. Don't assume they are the same for all farmers. They are not.