An organic farmer walks into Monsanto

The biotechnology giant Monsanto says that it’s ‘improving agriculture, improving lives.’ Do you agree?

Monsanto is a chemical company. Some of its efforts to improve agriculture involve agrochemicals and genetically modified (GM, genetically engineered, GE) seeds to be planted where those chemicals are to be used. Monsanto’s range of weedkiller-tolerant Roundup Ready crops and its range of pest-killing Bt crops are widely grown by farmers on the North American continent. That’s one of the main reasons why Monsanto is the world’s most hated company.

My fellow blogger Rob Wallbridge at The Fanning Mill is an organic farmer in Quebec. Here’s what Rob says about his visit to Monsanto.

‘The current debate around biotechnology seems to be obsessed with… the “how” rather than the “why” [of crop breeding]. In my opinion, this is unfortunate because it distracts us from important discussions about the long-term sustainability of agriculture…

‘On the one hand, most farmers — organic, conventional and everything in between — welcome crop varieties which have been bred for disease resistance, or tolerance to environmental conditions (drought, wetness, cold, heat, etc.)… [many] varieties… are protected by patents which stipulate that I can’t save and sell seeds from the plants I grow. In my mind this is fair; I want the people who breed these plants to be fairly compensated for the work they do so that they can keep developing new varieties for me to grow!

‘On the other hand, a single-minded focus on seeds and traits as the answer to our challenges is problematic. There are other means to accomplish these same goals, and to my mind, they bring additional benefits. Building soils high in organic matter and aggregate stability, for example, will give the crops growing in them tremendous drought tolerance. At the same time, these soils will not be prone to erosion, and will be able to supply higher levels of a broad range nutrients, resulting in higher quality food for people and animals alike. Experience and research also demonstrates that crops grown in healthy, living soils will be more resistant to pests and disease, further reducing the need for expensive, potentially harmful inputs.’

Does Monsanto represent sustainable agriculture? You can make up your own mind.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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4 Responses to An organic farmer walks into Monsanto

  1. beeseeker says:

    This is a well-balanced, if very brief, article and cuts to the heart of matters.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • argylesock says:

      I’ve been following Rob’s Fanning Mill blog for a while. This particular article of his triggered an article from another farmer, which I might get around to replying to. That farmer’s main point was that she’s not forced to buy GM seeds – she chooses to buy them.

  2. EqFe says:

    “The current debate around biotechnology seems to be obsessed with… the “how” rather than the “why” [of crop breeding]. In my opinion, this is unfortunate because it distracts us from important discussions about the long-term sustainability of agriculture” If you ask me, truth be told there seems to be precious little discussion of the sustainability of agriculture in the places and by the people that matter.
    In the US we practice what John Jeavons has called “agricultural strip mining” Which refers to the fact that topsoil is being lost at an unsustainable rate, and water from aquifers is being used far faster than it can be replenished. The story is similar in many parts of the world especially where large commercial farming Is conducted. Hell in Australia, for the longest time aquifers were drained to raise rice.
    I certainly agree that the focus should be on the soil, conserving topsoil and increasing the organic matter content of it, but the US Department of Agriculture has little interest in organic farming. I’m not sure if it’s better elsewhere.

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