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What does GMO mean?

August 17, 2017

Give.Me.Oreos…

Gross.Maple.Oatmeal…

Gorgeous.Metallic.Opal…

Genetically.Modified.Organism.

As much as I wish GMO stood for Gorgeous Metallic Opal, it actually stands for Genetically Modified Organism. This is such a hot acronym these days and to be honest this term is used incorrectly often. Let’s look at a few definitions of GMO I found today:

1.The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a GMO as “any organism in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.”

http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/food-technology/faq-genetically-modified-food/en/

2.Dictionary.comdefines a GMO as “an organism or microoganism whose genetic material has been altered by means of genetic engineering.”

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/gmo

3.The USDA’s Glossary of Agricultural Biotechnology Terms defines a GMO as “an organism produced through genetic modification.”

https://www.usda.gov/topics/biotechnology/biotechnology-glossary

I also want to review the following words also defined by the USDA’s Glossary of Agricultural Biotechnology:

*Genetic Modification as “The production of heritable improvements in plants or animals for specific uses, via either genetic engineering or other more traditional methods. Some countries other than the United States use this term to refer specifically to genetic engineering.”

*Genetically Engineered Organism (GEO) as “An organism produced through genetic engineering.”

*Genetic Engineering as “Manipulation of an organism’s genes by introducing, eliminating or rearranging specific genes using the methods of modern molecular biology, particularly those techniques referred to as recombinant DNA techniques.”

So, now, things are really confusing because we have both GMOs and GEOs. We as a society, are using the term GMO incorrectly. Essentially, everything in our food system and many other things are genetically modified because farmers, breeders, growers, and scientists are constantly trying to figure out ways to produce more food faster and with less inputs.

A beef farmer will talk with the butcher about what carcasses graded prime and then use that information to choose what cows to rebreed and what bulls to use. This is a form of genetic modification.calvesA Golden Dachshund is the mix between a golden retriever and a dachshund. This type of mix would probably not happen in the wild. But, with human intervention and years of breeding selection, a golden dachshund exists and it is a GMO.

A Pink Lady apple is a mix between a Golden Delicious and Lady Williams apples. This is just another example of a genetically modified organism in our every day food system.

The point I am trying to make is that almost everything is a genetically modified organism. Crops have been genetically selected or modified for higher yields, better disease resistances, and ability to handle environmental stressors like drought or flood. Livestock animals are specifically bred for faster growth on less food and better production. Scientists are developing trees immune to devastating diseases and invasive pests. These trees would be considered GMOs.

GMOs are everywhere. If legislation would be put into place to control GMOs, our current food system would be destroyed and people would starve. GMOs are not bad and we’ve been consuming them for hundreds of years.

Now, let’s discuss GEOs. Genetically Engineered Organisms are created by scientists and researchers in a lab. Genetic material from one species is placed into another species using molecular biology techniques. This is how we have corn plants with bacteria DNA and chickens that produce lifesaving medications in their eggs and salmon that grow faster and better with less food and less waste.
1934467_950333990994_2099330_nAre GEOs safe for human consumption? Honestly, I am not qualified to answer that question. I have an opinion as a farmer. But I am not a PhD scientist with years of research experience with GEOs.

Do GEOs help humans? YES, lots of medicines and vaccines are produced using GEOs. Scientists have developed multiple genetically engineered animals that are more environmentally friendly. Some of these animals utilize nutrients in their digestive system better, so less comes out in their waste. Others grow faster on less food, which means they produce less waste over their lifespan.

GMO and GEO does not automatically mean a plant with a chemical pesticide resistance ie Round Up Ready. I think many individuals’ understanding of a GMO starts and stops with Monsanto/Pesticides/Big Farming. But as I demostrated with only a few examples GMOs and GEOs are so much more than that. So when we talk about potentially controlling GMOs or GEOs with legislature, we need to make sure we are specific about the terms we use. Many GMOs and GEOs are currently proven safe and helping humanity and we definitely need the help.

 

Aliens are real!

August 2, 2017

When someone mentions aliens we immediately think of the short green guys from outer space. However the definition of an alien species is technically a species that is outside its normal distribution range. So a human on Antarctica would be an alien. I recently discovered a new alien species on the family farm. But before we get into that, I would like to review a few terms used when discussing aliens.

An Invasive Species is defined by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. An example of an invasive species is the Emerald Ash Borer. This invasive insect feeds exclusively on ash trees and usually kills the tree in 3-4 years.

A Non-Native Species as called an Alien Species is any species found outside of its native habitat or normal range of distribution. A great example of a non-native species is the Ring-necked Pheasant. These birds are native to Asia and were introduced into the United States as a game bird.

A Noxious Weed is defined by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has defined as a plant that is determined to be injurious to public health, crops, livestock, agricultural land, and other properties. One example of a noxious weed is Multiflora Rose. This plant was brought into the United States to be used as wildlife habitat and living fence. However the plant grows very rapidly, is hard to control, and is a host for diseases that affect ornamental rose bushes.

Alright now back to my recent alien discovery at the family farm.

In the pictures above you can see what has been identified as a Japanese Mystery Snail. I spotted 7 of them in one small area along the edge of the farm pond. As the name suggests it is native to Japan. These are large golf ball sized snails with an operculum or trapdoor. This “trapdoor” allows the snail to survive days out of water because they can completely close their shell. The female Japanese Mystery Snail gives birth to live crawling young. From what I’ve read scientists haven’t decided officially if the Japanese Mystery Snail is an invasive species or simply an alien. These snails are larger than most of our native freshwater snails. Large populations of the Japanese Mystery Snail can out compete native species for food and potentially block drain pipes. So for now I am going to monitor the population of snails in the farm pond and wait to see what else the science community discovers about these snails.

Keep your eyes peeled because aliens are real and you never know they might be hiding out in your backyard!

Farming is Hard

July 26, 2017

Farming is hard, regardless of how much time you put into it, meaning if you do it full time or in your spare time, Farming is hard. Producing food, fiber, or fuel takes time, patience, knowledge, and hard work. My extended family operates a part time farm. We all pitch in as needed but all the families also have one or two full time jobs. I work full time and spend my summer evenings and weekends working in the garden. Others from the family assist with making hay, harvesting crops, and caring for the livestock. I lend a helping hand with these tasks as needed. We all know how to do each others tasks, which is helpful when full time jobs and family responsibilities come first. I take great pride in our ability to produce food. Food production takes science, passion, and luck. Science has taught us what to grow, when to grow it, and how to grow it. Passion for all living things is a must. You have to understand that all living things require love and care plus a little patience. In addition, you have to have respect for the living things in the environment you don’t have control over. And finally luck is a must. Farming and food production is a risky business. With bad luck comes barren animals, pests, diseases, and poor weather conditions. With good luck comes bumper crops, many babies, and great prices. Nothing beats the pride a farmer feels after a successful season. As we are preparing for our biggest season of the year at the home farm(sweet corn), I want you to remember that farming is hard and those producing your food work hard for quality and quantity. So get out there and support your local farmers! dsc01237.jpg

Nature is Amazing

September 21, 2016

The other day I noticed this odd caterpillar crawling around. Of course I took like 15 pictures with my iPhone for identifying later. Initially I thought I found a caterpillar with 4 parasitic wasp eggs on its back. img_0026

Now that I’ve identified it as a White-marked Tussock Moth Orgyia leucostigma, I know differently. The White-marked Tussock Moth has 4 white tufts on its back close to its head. This got me wondering…why does it have these tufts? are these tufts suppose to look like parasitic wasp eggs? is there a purpose to these tufts? With a little research, aka typing a question into Google, I found an article from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on the White-marked Tussock Moth. This article talks about a theory that the 4 white tufts are indeed mimicking the external cocoons of parasitic wasps. Other parasitic species see these white tufts as a sign that the caterpillar is “occupied” with a parasite and leave the caterpillar alone. This is a great form of deception. Nature is Amazing!

Article mentioned: https://www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/white-marked-tussock-moth.cfm

 

What is considered a Waters of the United States?

June 8, 2015

The recent finalized Clean Water Rule from EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers has a lot of people confused. It also has created concerns among farmers and industry groups about potential effects on production agriculture. I’ve reviewed the part of the rule that defines what is considered a Waters of the United States. Here is my summary:

Waters of the United States as defined in the Clean Water Rule

  • Navigable waters that can be / are / have been used for national and foreign commerce
  • All interstate waters and wetlands, which includes waters that flow across states or form state boundaries
  • Territorial Seas which extend up to 12 nautical miles from the baseline of all US coasts
  • All water controls and tributaries associated with navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, and territorial seas
  • All waters adjacent to navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, territorial seas, and their associated water controls and tributaries. This includes wetlands, ponds, lakes, oxbows, and similar waters
  • Waters that have been determined to be of significant nexus to navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, and territorial seas. Significant nexus is defined as waters that have a significant affect on the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, and territorial seas
  • All waters located within the 100-year floodplain of navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, and territorial seas and all waters located within 4000 feet of the high tide line or ordinary high water mark and have a significant nexus to navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, and territorial seas
  • When water is determined to be significant nexus the entire water is considered a water of the United States even if just a small portion is located in the 100-year floodplain or 4000ft ordinary high water mark.

NOT Waters of the United State as defined in the Clean Water Rule

  • Waste treatment systems and associated industry approved practices
  • Prior converted cropland
  • ditches that are not a relocated tributary or excavated tributary and ditches that do not flow directly or through another waters into a Waters of the United States
  • Artificial irrigation areas and constructed lakes and ponds including those used for livestock watering, irrigation, settling, log cleaning, cooling, and flooding of rice fields
  • All dry land constructed reflecting pools, swimming pools, and ornamental waters
  • Water filled depressions created on dry land relating to mining or construction
  • Erosion created rills, gullies, and ephemeral gullies
  • Puddles
  • Storm water control features on dry land
  • Waste Water recycling structures on dry land

  

May is for Field Trips

May 20, 2015

May has been very busy for me at work. My Conservation District rents out 2 different no-till drills to local farmers. I have been helping move the drill through out the county with my one co-worker. This can be time consuming because you can’t drive very fast when hauling a heavy no-till drill. I’ve also been helping out with school education programs. I really enjoy getting to teach kids about science, agriculture, and the environment.

The first program I did was for 6th graders. This program focused on pH and its effects on water quality and wildlife. Explaining pH to 6th graders can be challenging, so I used a lesson plan called Red Cabbage Chemistry. The juice from a red cabbage works like a pH indicator and will change colors when you add acids or bases to it. This is a great way to demonstrate different pHs in household products. I also collected water samples from my family farm pond, which is full of fish, and from a local Acid Mine Drainage(AMD) impacted stream. The kids had visited the AMD stream in 5th grade and knew that there was no aquatic wildlife. Showing the students the difference in pH between the farm pond at 6.5 and the AMD stream at 4 helped them to understand the importance and effects of pH on water quality.

The second program I did was for 2nd graders. This program showed the students what foods they eat come from farms in PA. I complied pictures of plants and animals that can be found on PA farms and pictures of the food products that come from these plants and animals. The students really enjoyed getting to guess/shout out the answers. Something I found very interesting is that at least half of the students didn’t know where chocolate comes from. The #1 response I got when I asked them where chocolate comes from was “Milk.” This provided me the opportunity to explain that chocolate comes from the cacao tree and all milk that comes out of any color of cow is white milk. Some of the students were shocked!

As much as I enjoy teaching students, I realize at the end of the day I do not have the patience to be a full time teacher. I have complete respect for teachers and all their hard work. Teachers are truly amazing individuals.

Farmers Care About Conservation

May 7, 2015

Everything on Earth depends on our natural resources for survival. Air, water, soil, plants, and animals are essential to the survival and productivity of the earth. As unlimited as these resources seem, without conservation we will destroy them. Farmers have always been stewards for the environment because they rely on our natural resources to make a living. Conservation is key and the majority of farmers are already using conservation practices on their operations. Farmers need natural resources to be productive and make a living. Clean air and pollution free fresh water is essential for livestock and crops to grow and survive. Farmers use conservation practices like buffer stripes and no-till to reduce nutrients and sediments from getting into surface and ground water. Farmers also use practices like no-till and windbreaks to diminish wind erosion and odor. The basis of our food, fiber, and raw material production is the soil. Healthy productive soils are essential to farmers. There are many different conservation practices used to promote healthy productive soils. Soil erosion is reduced using conservation tillage, no-tillage, contour farming, cover crops, and many other practices. Soil health is measured by the amount of organic matter and soil biology present. Farmers increase soil health by using conservation tillage, cover crops, manure, residue management, and diversity. These practices are used by all farmers to varying degrees. A lot of fruits and vegetables require pollination to produce a crop. Farmers that rely on natural pollinators will plant alternative plants to create pollinator habitat. These alternative plants are not harvested and usually planted along field edges and areas of limited production. By using conservation practices farmers not only help protect the environment, they also save money. Conservation tillage and no-tillage reduces the number of trips a tractor takes across the farm. This reduction in trips decreases the amount of fuel used on the farm and cuts back on fuel costs and emissions. Fields utilizing no-tillage and cover crops will retain water better than plowed and uncovered fields. The no-tillage and cover cropped fields will yield higher than other fields during droughty years. By utilizing various conservation practices farmers are able to protect our natural resources and save money at the same time. Your local Conservation District and NRCS Office work directly with farmers to include conservation practices on their farms.

“We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our Children.”
– Native American Proverb