Some IL crops survive better amid weather flux

Jul 8, 2014

Recent rainfall in Illinois has provided some welcome relief for many farmers, but too much or too little moisture can be tricky for corn and soybeans. Illinois Public Radio’s Mariam Sobh has more on crops that seem able to withstand unpredictable weather patterns

“On the edges of the fields we have issues with weeds, but you can see in the second row of the field, there’s no weeds in there.”

That’s Lin Warfel, a Central Illinois farmer who grows corn and soybeans in Tolono.

“I’m nearing the end of my tenure. This is my 52nd crop, so I’m trying to simplify everything and the simple way and easy way to do it nowadays is just plain corn and plain soybeans. Both of which are GMO.” 

Warfel started using corn and soybeans that have been genetically modified which means scientists have been able to identify and multiply the strongest and the best genes. He says he doesn’t necessarily have to worry about the weather and has seen a huge difference in his yield compared to the years before GMO’s were around.

“About 25 years ago we had a drought and this was before current genetics. My corn that year yielded just over 100 bushels per acre. With the change in the genetics,  It was only 155. It was 55 bushels better than my corn was earlier because of genetics.” 

According to the Illinois Farm Bureau 89% of corn in Illinois and 92% of soybeans are grown from genetically engineered seeds. Warfel says GMO corn and soybeans are more likely to make it through harsh weather conditions.

“It stands too much moisture better or not enough moisture better, so it’s more productive more consistently than it used to be.”

Warfel says using GMO crops also helps to reduce his bottom line. He spends less on fuel because he doesn’t need to be out on the field twice a day cultivating it. He also employs fewer people because there’s not as much work that needs to be done.

But not all farmers are on board with GMO’s. Dave Bishop is the owner of Prairie Earth Farm. His farm is also based in Central Illinois but grows organic and conventional non GMO produce including corn and soybeans.

“I think there are better ways to address issues of pest resistance and weather changes to different kinds of crop rotation and cover crops. In my opinion far better than Genetically engineered crops."

Bishop says he doesn’t believe in the hype that GMO’s are better at resisting drought or too much rain.

“I think that conventional crops yield as well. They are more profitable in most cases at least here we have a significant premium in the marketplace for non GMO crops.” 

But, Illinois Department of Agriculture director Bob Flider, says despite the significant crop devastation due to the drought of 2012, crops were still able to survive.

“If you think about the drought that we had a couple of years ago, quite candidly it was probably the worst weather conditions that we’ve had in Illinois … Ever.. in terms of the heat and the dryness ...but yet we still had a crop. If we hadn’t have had those kinds of seeds and scientific research that could grow and develop a crop we might have had virtually nothing and that would have been a disaster.” 

Flider says as resources around the world continue to become depleted, it’s important to support research and find ways to increase production in order to feed the growing population.

And that is a topic that pits the debate of good versus bad when it comes to the overall impact of GMO’s.