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Agriculture across the pond

Genetically modified organisms still face challenges within the European Union; however, one Irish wheat farmer is optimistic change is on the way.

"With this challenge of feeding the world, we must embrace technology," said John Dardis, who farms approximately 30 miles south of Dublin in Kildare County.

The challenge will be for farmers to double food production by 2050 to feed an estimated 9 billion mouths, Dardis told nearly 1,000 farmers and ranchers at Kansas Farm Bureau's annual meeting the first week in December.

Originally, the Dardis family raised beef cattle. Recently, John has moved exclusively to raising wheat, barley and oats. He is a fifth-generation farmer and serves as First Secretary of Agriculture and Food with the Embassy of Ireland in Washington.

While the EU clings to studies that say Western European consumers do not want biotechnology used in their food, Dardis contends this attitude is changing.

United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron recently talked about the shift in the U.K.'s attitude toward this technology. Cameron emphasized the importance of fostering a "pro-science" culture and said he's ready to call on the E.U. to relax its stifling restrictions on biotechnology.

"There's also a vigorous scientific effort on behalf of the European Food Safety Authority to ensure the proper scientific overview is given to GMOs," Dardis said. "When you look at the facts, they conclude biotech is safe."

As a wheat breeder, Dardis is convinced food products all will post labels saying whether or not they are genetically modified. Then the consumer will have the opportunity to decide what she wants to buy, he said.

Another challenge the Irish farmer said his countrymen continue to face is the inability to use growth promoters with beef cattle. This means more time and expense to ready their livestock for market.

"We have a wonderful resource in our native grasses, but we have to feed our cattle silage and protein for another three to four months to finish them off," Dardis said.

Ireland exports nearly 90 percent of its beef, mainly in the European Union. Irish-produced beef is a close second on the grocery shelf running only behind domestic beef raised throughout Western Europe, according to Dardis.

"While I prefer the grass-fed beef of Ireland, a good steak is a good steak wherever you have it in this world," he said.

Dardis also is excited about the prospects of dairy in his home country. Irish dairy farmers have been restricted by a quota for many years.

In the early '80s, Irish dairymen were exporting milk on par with New Zealand, Dardis recalls. New Zealand has expanded its dairy exports threefold since then, and Ireland now lags far behind.

"We're excited that in 2015, the quota will be removed from dairy," the Irish farmer said. "We have plans to grow our dairy exports by 50 percent and rank in the top five in the coming years."

Today, Ireland imports milk from other countries and adds value to this raw product and then exports it as infant formula and finished cheeses.

Wrapping up his comments to the farmers and ranchers from Kansas, Dardis told them to be "proud of what you do.

"Farmers and ranchers on both sides of the Atlantic are increasingly under pressure from outside our world," he said. "The natural reaction is to go into your shell and back to what you do and not put the facts on the table.

"You are feeding the world," Dardis said. "That's not rhetoric. Be proud of this and mold the discussion. Don't stay away from it."

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.