GMO essential to meeting growing global wheat demand


Agriculture has been through several revolutions instrumental in increasing production enough to feed a hungry world. The first was known as the mechanical revolution, which changed power sources from animal power to engine power.

The second is the green revolution, largely attributed to the late great Dr. Norman Borlaug and consisting of the production and use of commercial fertilizers along with modern crop protection products. The green revolution did not give farmers the ability to cover more acreage the way the mechanical revolution did, but it allowed them to produce more on every acre.

We are in the midst of a third great revolution that may someday be called the technology revolution. Innovations include electronic gadgetry, GPS technology, highly engineered large machinery, and yes, genetically modified organisms.

As the world population grows and the amount of available tillable acres declines, we will see more demand for food, which in turn, will require every acre to be more productive. In the past we turned to machinery and fertilizer advancements along with superior genetics to increase production. As we round the corner of the 21st century we will count more and more on technology to give us the leap we will need to stay abreast of the growing need for a safe, plentiful food supply.

Growers support GMO

We have watched corn and soybeans go through the transition from non-GMO to almost exclusively GMO. Over time, this once hot topic has become largely forgotten by the media. We in the wheat industry are the troublesome tag-along little brother having now become the hot topic, still waiting for market acceptance from countries who may already have accepted GMO corn and soy.

Over 75 percent of Montana Grain Growers Association members clearly support GMO research and future release. Oftentimes I heard the argument from nonsupporters, “Why would we want to produce more of something we already oversupply the world with?” As little as five years ago, this was a legitimate question. I now ask you, “Are we really oversupplying the wheat market?” We have recently seen carryover supplies in the lower end of the spectrum on a regular basis to the point that weather disasters in any of the major wheat growing areas of the world cause supplies to become very tight, as evidenced by the Russian drought last summer.

GMO wheat production will very likely create a larger supply of wheat, resulting in lower prices. Once again, many would ask why we would want a lower price. We don’t, but in our very liquid world wheat market, we are not only competing with our neighbors, we are also competing with growers in other wheat-producing countries, and if they raise their yields through GMO production, we will have to follow suit or be left in the dust, as their increased production will deflate the world price and our own flat-line yield will equate to lower gross revenue.

Global competition

It will become more important to stay competitive with other countries, not only in production, but also in research. We all watch with keen interest as the race among crop technology companies continues to escalate. What traits are they working on, which traits will they put into trials, what areas of the country are they concentrating on?

I leave you with this quote by Dr. Norman Borlaug writing in response to environmental lobbyists: “If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.” Before his death, Dr. Borlaug was highly supportive of GMO production and I am quite sure he would support my implication that we could slip GMO right in between tractors and fertilizer in his quote.

Ryan McCormick, a grain producer from Kremlin, serves as treasurer of the Montana Grain Growers Association.

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