Illinois Farmers Choose Biotech and Non-GMO Crops For Their Fields

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biotech crops

We’ve all heard debates about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Genetic modification represents a product of biotechnology, or the use of living organisms to make or modify a product. And while many people feel strongly about this subject, several Illinois farmers have found common ground, growing both GMO and non-GMO crops.

After years of scientific research and rigorous testing for approvals, biotech crops arrived on the farm in the 1990s. They brought a host of environmental and farm benefits: new methods to combat crop-damaging insects, reduction of pesticide use and new defenses against some of Mother Nature’s harshest growing conditions.

However, non-GMO crops sometimes bring a premium price for farmers, as consumers will pay more for products with that label. The financial incentives serve as one of many reasons Illinois farmers raise non-GMO crops.

As shoppers want a choice in what they buy, many farmers have diversified to meet demand. Lynn Rohrscheib of Vermilion County grows both types of crops on her corn and soybean farm.

“When the commodity prices started going down a few years ago, our local (grain) elevator had a program to grow non-GMO soybeans for a premium,” she explains. “It was a way for us to make up that marketing difference.”

She now grows exclusively non-GMO soybeans, while also raising biotech corn.

“All farmers want to be able to have a choice as they pick seed varieties,” Rohrscheib says. “It has helped us still maintain the kind of profitability that we would like to stay sustainable as a farm, to not only provide for our families but also the livelihood of the fairly large crew that works for us.”

biotech crops

Soybean Success

A relatively new biotech crop on the scene delivers exciting, direct health benefits to consumers. High-oleic soybeans yield oil with no trans fat, less saturated fat and the highest amount of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat available in soy.

“The high-oleic soybean is going to be a big plus for consumers for health reasons alone,” says Kyle Lottinville, who grows the crop on his farm in Iroquois County.

High-oleic soybean oil tolerates high heat conditions, a trait of particular interest for frying and baking in the food industry. Some food processors switched to palm oil when the Food and Drug Administration made food processors label for trans fat, a fat that increases bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol. While palm oil contains low or no trans fat, it contains high quantities of saturated fat. High-oleic soybean oil contains no trans fat and 75 percent less saturated fat than palm oil, reports Pioneer, a company that produces high-oleic soybean seed. Not to mention that the soybeans can be produced right here in Illinois.

Lottinville, who also grows non-GMO crops, hopes that consumer and processor interest in high-oleic soybean oil takes off. The crop yielded the best among his soybeans grown on his farm in 2016. He also earns a 40-cent premium per bushel for the crop.

biotech crops

“It’s a catch-22 because the oil is good, the end user would like to have more of it because the heat flash point is higher and it is healthier for the consumers,” he says. “But there is not enough supply for processors to switch 100 percent yet, and there is not enough supply because there are not enough end users yet.”

The United Soybean Board stands confident that high-oleic soybean production will increase. The board set a goal for acreage to increase from its nearly half million U.S. acres in 2016 to 18 million acres by 2023.

What Is Biotechnology?

A set of tools that uses living organisms (or parts of organisms) to make or modify a product, improve plants, trees or animals, or develop microorganisms for specific uses. Examples of biotechnology include traditional applications, such as the making of bread, cheese, wine and beer, and more modern applications to grow or culture cells for research or to make genetically modified crops for food, feed, fuel and fiber.

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