It's In The DNA How GMOs Help Farmers Move Toward Sustainable Practices

We all want to reduce our carbon footprint, enrich the soil, produce more food on less land, and reduce food waste. Throw in no loss of nutritional value, and you've got a genuine scientific miracle. But that's what GMOs can do.  

Sustainability is vital to all agricultural production systems, whether you mean conventional, organic, or genetically modified crops. When it comes down to it, each GMO crop exists to meet a specific challenge facing as they feed an expanding world. This roundup highlights some amazing environmental benefits GMOs have unveiled over the last 20 years.

More Crops; Less Land

GMO seeds allow farmers may reap greater harvests while using less arable land. Since GMOs directly address significant problems like pests, weather, disease, and food loss, the yields are much more secure than traditional crops. Growing the same quantity of food worldwide in 2018 would have used 59.7 million additional acres of land without GMOs. That is bigger than the whole state of Idaho!

GMOs Promote Healthier Farming Techniques

Conservation tillage (i.e., no-till, minimal-till, or reduced-till farming) is not exclusive to GMO crops. Instead, it is a critical component of an integrated pest management (IPM) program used by many sustainable farmers to improve soil health and reduce carbon emissions. For example, instead of tilling a whole field after the harvest for fear of pests, farmers might leave what remains of the crops (such as corn stalks) in the field and sow seeds straight into that residue during the next planting season.

Herbicide-tolerant crops assist farmers in more efficiently controlling weeds by allowing them to plow fields less regularly, if at all. Because the soil is not disturbed, the naturally contained carbon remains sequestered in the soil. In addition, less fuel is used without heavy equipment plowing the fields, resulting in lower engine CO2 emissions.

Farmers Rely on GMOs to Reduce Overall Chemical Use

GMO crops have helped to reduce pesticides' total environmental effect by almost 19%. Herbicide-tolerant crops enable farmers to spray fields with broad-application chemicals like glyphosate. This application removes several common weeds at once and keeps farmers from having to till the soil as often. The net result is that herbicide applications occur less frequently, causing a net decrease in use.

Similarly, insect-resistant crops generate the Bacillus thuringiensis protein (Bt), which is present in nature and toxic to many insects. Nevertheless, it is permitted even in organic certification programs because it attacks a cellular receptor in an insect's gut that is not present in humans, mammals, and other wildlife. As a result, the total reduction in pesticide and herbicide use over 22 years was over 775 million kg. Now, 88% of cotton and 82% of corn farmed in the United States are genetically engineered for pest resistance.

GMOs Promote Healthy Soil, Air, and Water

Since GMOs cause farmers to till less often, the soil retains more carbon, and agriculture emits fewer greenhouse gases (GHG). In addition, less tilling means less soil erosion - when farmland is exposed to wind and water, the soil remains strong and stays in the fields. As a result, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers remain in the soil and stay out of waterways.

Finally, with more helpful insects and the leftovers of earlier harvests in the fields, the quantity of organic material in the soil rises, helping it to retain more moisture and nutrients. All these beneficial ingredients may one day make the soil more resilient and better able to resist the effects of climate change.

  • Follow the Science – Even if you opt to avoid GMOs, you should recognize that they have reduced the overall application of potentially hazardous chemicals in our agricultural system. Moreover, they have lowered emissions. The topic is complex, and people of goodwill come down on both sides of the fence.
  • Grow Your Own – If you want to avoid GMOs, consider starting a vegetable garden. There are no GMO seeds available for private purchase in the US. Instead, you need to decide whether to buy hybrid seeds – the result of crossbreeding different varieties of the same plant.
  • Pay Attention – Not all GMOs are beneficial all the time. Sustainability is a strange confluence of technology and nature, and what constitutes a sustainable practice can be very context-dependent. So do some research if you want to know the potential drawbacks of a specific GMO.