This week I will be sharing posts about corn in Indiana ranging from topics like- genetically modified: what does that mean anyway and an inside look into Indiana’s family corn farmers as a part of the Indiana Family of Farmers ambassador program- which I am a part of. Whereas I was compensated for my time for travel for this project I am not in any way, shape or form promoting a particular idea or brand. Like everything I share on Basilmomma.com, all opinions and ideas are my own and I was not compensated by Beck’s Hybrids.
I have no opinion here. I believe in choices. What I will share in these posts is an unbiased glimpse into the life of a single corn kernel and it’s ability to divide people. No propaganda, no fear and no shaming. I know there are several of you that had many questions about hybrid vs GM like I did. I decided to go to the source to find out what all of the hubbub was about. The journey starts at Indiana’s Beck’s Hybrids and ends with a multi-generational farm in my own backyard. Read part one HERE
Please follow along and let me know (in the comments) what YOU would like to know about Hybrid and GM corn.
In 1964 Indiana farmer Sonny Beck, after having success with cattle, hogs and chickens on his farm, learned about a new technology of ‘hybrid corn’. Wanting to learn more and grow a more diverse crop, Sonny set about to form what is now the largest independent retail seed company in the United States and 6th overall seed producer in the country.
With a motto of providing the best in field performance, service and quality- Beck’s Hybrids has now become a name synonymous with quality on a massive scale. The company, still family owned and operated, has no outside investors or stock options. To remain privately owned and kept in the family makes this yet another heritage brand in Indiana that I have gotten to know.
But what does this mean for the average Hoosier consumer? Where does their commitment to quality, standards and scientific advances fit into our lives? To answer that you need to get a slice of the giant pie of what it means to create hybrid and gmo seeds. Even more than that- why are some seeds hybrid? What does that mean and how is that different from a modified seed? I hope to answer that in the next few paragraphs.
Where does it all begin?
Corn is not corn is not corn. Does that make sense? Corn is a ‘diva’. For some crops you drop seed in the ground and it goes to town. Corn has to be handled with care, tended to and depending on the seed used, tilled routinely to prevent weeds as well as sprayed to prevent invasive pests. Seed companies develop parent lines so they can cross them to suit what the farmer needs. Like a “speed boat amongst battleships” Becks in particular can make changes as the market changes and stay on trend with the demand of their customers.
Beck’s and other seed companies may ‘borrow with licensing’ genetic traits from larger companies. Not all seed grows in all areas hence the need to create what can and will grow in their demographic. Because they are independent they can and have the flexibility to partner with larger companies to provide exactly what the customer needs. Beck’s also licenses their strains to larger companies so it goes both ways. Beck’s has it’s own high caliber research facility that I was fortunate enough to tour. Along with several labs, I toured a few of the many grow houses that consistently grow and test strains year round. It was a toasty 80 degrees the day I visited (and a rainy 55 degrees outside).
Growing corn is much more of an emotional decision than many may know. There is more time, money and care devoted to that one crop than any other. Intermating 2 individual strains and creating a variety that will thrive and have a high yield is key. Doesn’t that make sense? Corn is like any other business. You are constantly evolving, shifting and learning so you grow.
Marrying 2 varieties that produce, resist insects, resists drought is a unique process and one that has evolved since the late 1950’s. Whereas soybeans are very inbred to create the right product- corn abhors inbreeding. Before the 1920’s corn was open pollinated with selections for each region. In the 1930’s, the questions was raised: why not create hybrid corn strains similarly to the process of breeding animals?
To create a perfect and pure hybrid you need perfect and pure parents and Beck’s goal was and still is to create better male and female lines. Take a high yield mom and inter-mate with other high yield moms. Then pick out the good progeny (kids). They then have to successfully self pollinate at least 7 generations to make a pure inbred strain. Remember- here we are talking about hybrid seeds. Invision plants you buy at a nursery and new varieties that pop up every year. How do you think that happens? Science.
This same process is used with males to create the progeny. You then take these perfect progeny and marry them. Now this is a very vague synopsis of this process because I frankly do not have the space here to share it all now. I urge you to visit Beck’s Hybrids to learn more.
Now we as humans spend amazing sums of money each year to prevent colds, disease and stay healthy. We want to feel good and in some cases prolong our lives (makes sense, right?). We even use technology to protect and prolong our lives. If we knew how to isolate genes that cause disease and illness- and we could eventually remove these genes from future humans- wouldn’t you want to do this?
So enter in the reason, the scientifically proven reason, that genetically modified corn was created.
Corn is unable to protect itself from pests and every region of the United States has it’s own laundry list of pests. So knowing the biochemistry of plants and isolating a mutation or even inducing one- will produce stronger seed in the end. So lets say for example the Corn Earworm is invasive in a particular area and those farmers want to protect their crops from this pest. Seed companies can synthesize a protein that is inserted into that individual plants DNA that when ingested by the Corn Earworm it will kill and prevent loss due to that insect. Only that insect. The worm will die or be repelled but not an ant or lets say- a fly. The protein reacts biochemically to that particular pest.
Seed companies all react to customer choice and need so if they need to add a trait, then that is what they add. Like I said before, not every region has the same need. Areas with a lower pervasive pest count will possibly opt for a hybrid seed whereas areas with higher pest counts may need the protection of a modified seed. Why buy seed that has protection from pests you don’t have in your area?
Farmers must protect their yield from predators daily. Whether coning in the form of weeds or animals, weather or insects the ability for a crop to protect itself is an attractive one. Very few Hoosier farmers make a living on corn alone. Many also grow other crops, raise cattle or hogs and their time is also divided amongst several property locations in come cases. Businesses, because farming is a business, need to evolve and change as time marches on to stay strong, profitable and grow. We as a society applaud corporations like Apple when they bust out their new products or automakers when they come up with advances that keep us safe on the roads. But when agriculture finds way to feed our growing numbers, our livestock and fuel our consuming culture their practices are vilified.
In my opinion, and the only one I will share here, how do we as a society expect to feed our future, our families and other countries if we do not embrace ways to grow larger crops (yield), protect the investments of these crops (prevent disease and pests) and develop a stronger seed? When did THIS kind of technology become a topic of intense anger, division and scrutiny?
There is the whole topic of refuge seed (luring pests to throwaway rows to protect stronger rows), pesticides and seed development that I cannot get into here. There is too much ground to cover and I urge you to contact seed companies via the internet to read their research, seek out third party entities to read theirs as well. Purdue University, Indiana Family of Farmers, Beck’s Hybrids are just a few starting points. Also, talk to a crop farmer. Get involved in your local extension office and follow these entities on social media. Be a part of their conversation and I hope you realize there are sandboxes where everyone does in fact play well together. I urge you to avoid getting all of your information from the mouths of celebrities, internet memes, social media traps and scare tactics.
One last thing, remember that protected seeds mean less pesticides, less time spent by farmers in tilling (and etc) and less cost to consumers. From a field of sweet corn to acres and acres of field corn for your food, starches, animal feed and fuel, creating a gene sequence to protect yield or a perfect hybrid takes time, resources and a whole lot of intelligent scientists who dedicate their lives to this.
It takes less time to sell an an idea based on fear than it does to learn and sell based off of science and the truth.
Next I will share a glimpse into the lives of Indiana’s corn farmers, stay tuned.