Technology is a tool farmers need
In my role as president and general manager of Farmers Cooperative Co., a farmer-owned cooperative in Haviland, and a Land O' Lakes board member, I am concerned with the widespread attacks on our nation's farmers because they choose to do something everyone does each day -- use modern technology to increase productivity. The benefits of modern technology for today's farmers are as endless in agriculture as they are in any industry.
Why? Because, real-time communication and data collection are as essential to precision agriculture as they are to financial services, transportation, health care and more. Like many others here in Kansas, our farmers work more efficiently and effectively using smartphones, the Internet and GPS devices, which all help our farmers use fewer resources and leave a smaller footprint while producing more food on less land than we did just two generations ago. Back then, 20 percent of the population had a connection to production agriculture, and we spent approximately 25 percent of our income on food. Today, with less than 2 percent of the population connected to production agriculture, our farmers are delivering 150 bushels of corn per acre, and we spend less than 10 percent of our income on food.
Another important technological advancement available for our farmers is genetically modified seed. It's important to note the use of genetic modification in food has been in use for millennia, when early farmers began cross-breeding plants to deliver crops that had higher yields, different tastes and more. However, unlike cross-breeding in the fields, today's genetically modified seed is done in a lab and tested extensively.
Today, the majority of the corn and beans we handle and process are planted with genetically modified seeds. Farming with these seeds allows a farmer to combine the best of technology and traditional farming practices to produce great results. My 1,200 farmer members have been using genetically modified seeds to decrease water usage by reducing the need for pest and disease chemical control and implementing no-till farming. These methods mean less fuel and chemicals are used and soil isn't being over-tilled, which results in the loss of carbon that is captured in the soil. This can translate into a total carbon savings equal to removing 8.6 million automobiles from the road each year.
Advancements such as these, that increase our yields and lower prices, cannot be ignored in a country where 48 million people go to bed hungry every night. The droughts of the last two summers would have been far worse in Kansas -- and the cost of your groceries would have been far higher -- if our farmers hadn't had the option to use corn seed that is drought-tolerant and been able to apply the technologies such as satellite imagery to help reduce the effect of the drought.
We use satellites to help us map the soil samples that tell us what nutrients our crops need. We use the right combination of nutrients to optimize crop output rather than apply a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to applying plant food. And we use seeds that feed more people from the same amount of land.
As a native of rural Kansas, an economic region that greatly depends on agriculture, I am puzzled by the misinformation about how our nation's farmers use the technology available to increase production. During my career in our agriculture cooperative system, I have seen firsthand how today's farmers are producing the safest, most affordable food in the world on the same amount of land as their grandfathers used half a century ago.
Numerous scientific and regulatory bodies -- including the FDA, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the American Medical Association -- have concluded foods and beverages that contain genetically modified ingredients are as safe as products that don't contain genetically modified ingredients.
Embracing technology doesn't mean our farmers have scientists in white lab coats in their barns, any more than using computers and smartphones means a finance professional has a research and development lab in his home office. Rather, it means farmers are using technology like every other American, to be more productive, to stay informed, to stay connected to their work, shop, travel and eat. At Farmers Co-op of Haviland, my farmers understand the challenge of feeding a growing population, and it's a challenge we don't take lightly.
Stan Stark is president and general manager of Farmers Cooperative Co. and
a Land O' Lakes board member.