Ecocentric

Can GM Crops Bust the Drought?

The drought is eating away at U.S. crops—and climate change could make it worse in the future. Are GM crops an answer?

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Saul LOEB – Getty Images

Severely damaged corn stalks due to a widespread drought are seen at sunset on a farm near Oakland City, Indiana, Aug. 15, 2012.

All farmers know they’ll have to endure the occasional dry period, but what has happened to the American Midwest this summer has been practically biblical. By the end of July, over 60% of the U.S. was experiencing some form of drought–the most in more than half a century. Corn yields fell by at least 16%, and prices rose to record highs as farmers confronted fields of dust. Scariest of all, the drought of 2012, which could eventually cost as much as $18 billion, may be just a taste of what’s to come in a hotter, drier future. Climate models suggest broadly that dry areas will become drier as the planet warms—and that could be seriously bad news for America’s breadbasket, especially in the already arid areas of the Western breadbasket.

Farmers and crop companies are struggling to figure out ways to cope with severe drought. Changing the weather is still beyond us—though some countries like China are trying—but what if there were a way to breed crops that could use water more efficiently, thriving even in times of drought?

(MORE: Dry Summer Means More Encounters with Hungry Bears)

That’s what agribusiness is hoping to achieve with new genetically modified (GM) crop strains that are designed to endure arid conditions. Industry leader Monsanto is working on a hybrid line of corn called DroughtGard, developed with the German firm BASF, that is designed to enhance crop yield in dry soils. It is the first U.S. Department of Agriculture–approved GM crop to focus on drought tolerance and features a bacterial gene that enables it to better retain water. Hundreds of farmers in the western end of the Corn Belt–an area that runs to dry even in normal years–are field-testing DroughtGard, and Monsanto says early results indicate that the GM crop might improve yields by 4% to 8% over conventional crops in some arid conditions. “This year magnifies how important it is to have drought tolerance,” says Robert Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer.

Still, critics are skeptical that GM crops alone will enable farmers to overcome persistent drought. In a June report, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) noted that GM crops take years to develop and that the seeds created so far offer only modest benefit. “Genetic engineering is not a silver bullet,” says Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at UCS and the author of the report. GMO crops come with their own concerns. While most studies have shown genetically modified crops to be safe (PDF), many consumers still aren’t convinced. And GM seeds may not be affordable for the farmers in truly hard-hit areas—like sub-Saharan Africa. Still, if the drought of 2012 really does become the norm, though, farmers may need all the bullets they can get.

MORE: The Great Drying Comes Again

18 comments
jessie.morgellonsohio
jessie.morgellonsohio

Absolutely not. We are talking about a very dangerous direction we're thinking about taking. http://youtu.be/mEfJO0-cTis This video may very well be the most important 70 minutes of our lives. God Bless America.

susanksnow
susanksnow

When my dog was exposed by accident to Bti, a variance of the Bacillus thuringiensis sprayed on Bt cotton in India, Bt corn in the USA and elsewhere around the world, she developed: flu-like symptoms, alike the farmers in India, exposed to liquid Bt formulations, she had reactions including infection, severe skin irritation, burning, itching, swelling eruptions, and redness.  Her underside looked very similar to this image at here.http://media.mercola.com/imageserver/public/2011/October/rashes-and-itching-from-BT-cotton-contact.jpg

My veterinarian told me to NEVER use that product again.  NEVER!  It severely injured her health.  She needed several rounds of antibiotics to control the inflammation and bacterial infection.  And this was from either the Mosquito Dunk or the granules spread over standing water after a heavy rain to inhibit mosquitoes from breeding.  One can only imagine how this "safe" biological control would affect persons eating it when Bt is in every cell of the corn or cotton plant that people and animals eat.  What organ damage this biological control would do to livestock, and people from repeatedly being forced to eat the "food" whose DNA had been altered so that every cell contained this new and foreign organism from another species, or in this case, another kingdom.

At the time, my dog had not eaten GMO food.  I had fed her home made certified organic pet food.  Later, when forced to eat potentially contaminated GMO pet food, she simply stopped eating and nothing could coax her to eat again, until again I began feeding her organic homemade pet food with certified organic grains, veggies, eggs or meat.  Very expensive, but the only way to reduce the side effects internally, along with massive doses of antiobiotics to reduce the inflammation and infection..

organicconnections
organicconnections

Monsanto always wants to be seen as a savior of our food supply, though actual facts point to the opposite. Their DroughtGard is no exception. The problem is it doesn't actually work ina  drought: http://organicconnectmag.com/w...

DeepakR206
DeepakR206

 I wonder why this article doesn't mention what's also eating away at US crops: the news has been full of reports that GM corn engineered to kill rootworms is being eaten by... rootworms. The drought is making the situation worse, as pest-destroyed roots can't take up water. And why doesn't it mention the proven success of already available methods to combat drought, such as those here:

http://www.rodaleinstitute.org...

"Organic corn yields were 31% higher than conventional in years of drought"Why isn't anyone getting excited by this? Why prefer speculative claims by a biotech company that their crop "might" raise yield by a tiny 4-8%? Is this a matter of faith rather than science?

Claire Robinson
Claire Robinson

 Not only do conventionally bred crops outperform GM when it comes to drought tolerance, the EU 'research' that you claim shows GM foods are safe, does nothing of the sort, but in fact points to risk. See

http://earthopensource.org/ind...

and section 7 of the same report for info on non-GM drought tolerance.

Incidentally, proper soil management is the key to preserving yield in drought conditions. The long-running Rodale trials clearly show this--organic crops outyielded GM in drought conditions (yield was same in non-drought, GM not superior).

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bertafiable
bertafiable

I have posted this before but I still think its a good idea,

I have often thought of this idea, and maby someone or the government should take this idea and run with it, at any rate here it is, and please dont tell me its to costly, the drought is even more costly.Instead of running new gas and oil pipelines all across the country, what about running WATER pipelines all across the country, so when one part of the country is flooded, we could send water to the dry parts and fill the dried up reservoirs of Texas and the dry midwest, or wherever its needed, much of the intra structure is already in place.Its WAY past time we ALL put our collective heads together and come up with the answers we all so desperatly need, not only for ourselves but for the hopefully future generations ........

So please take ideas like these and RUN with it, together we can build a better mouse trap ( a better idea after more minds work on it).

I need a doggie treat, good luck to all  ..............

Vaengineer
Vaengineer

I don't think this GM technology can keep up with the all the requirements for a growing society.  Along with climate change and population growth, you need to factor in the dramatically increasing water needs for power plants and for fracking.  As world energy usage increases, water needed to produce energy increases.  I read that out in Colorado the frackers are outbidding farmers for water rights.  In China and India they are sacrificing irrigation to supply cooling water for new coal fire power plants.  I don't think there is a GM crop out there that can grow without water- that is in the end what it will take.

Vasu Murti
Vasu Murti

Top 10 Reasons to Label Genetically Engineered Food 

10. Almost all non-organic processed food or animal products in the U.S. today contain ingredients that come from genetically engineered crops or from animals given genetically engineered feed, vaccines or growth hormones. 

9. Genetically engineered foods have not been tested to determine whether they are safe for human consumption. 

8. Genetically engineered foods ARE different from conventional and organic foods. 

7. A single serving of genetically engineered soy can result in "horizontal gene transfer," where the bacteria in the human gut adopts the soy's DNA. 

6. Animals fed genetically engineered feed ARE different from animals fed conventional and organic feed. 

5. The third generation of hamsters fed genetically engineered soy suffered slower growth, a high mortality rate, and a bizarre birth defect: fur growing in their mouths. Many also lost the ability to have pups. 

4. The more genetically engineered corn fed to mice, the fewer babies they had and the smaller the babies were. 

3. Biotech's scattershot technique of spraying plant cells with a buckshot of foreign genes that hit chromosomes in random spots would trigger the expression of new allergens and change the character of plant proteins. 

2. Scientists reviewing data from Monsanto's own studies "have proven that genetically engineered foods are neither sufficiently healthy or proper to be commercialized." 

1. The Convention on Biodiversity recognizes that genetic engineering is a threat to amount and variety of life on the planet.

Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company
Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company

Realists look to solve real problems.  Hybrids have made a real differenec and GM might help but not to the extent needed.

It is unconscionable that a society that knows how to control water is stymied by important but secondary concerns, ruled over as if they were environmental fiefdoms.  Water control would be possible to end the effects of drought and flood, but such action is resisted because of traditonal enviromental impacts, often exagerated.  Now the same rulers are strident about global warming, but there is a lack of realization that climate problems can be reduced and mitigated by doing well known engineering projects that would control water distribution.  Realism needs to put this resistance in proper perspective.

A National Water System is needed which would enable universal irrigation, with associated benefits of ending drought and flood damage.  More importantly, it would enable conversion of vast under-used land areas to highly productive farms.  The resulting job creation would be huge, and agricultural products would be sufficient to shift trade balance from a deficit to a surplus.

Standing wood mass associated with many kinds of agriculture can substantially sequester CO2 from the atmosphere, however it came to be there.  This is a natural approach to the well established CO2 problem that would enable reasonably cautious continuation of the Industrial Revolution, which depends on abundant energy.

So economic benefits of expanded agriculture might be expected to more than pay for the infrastructure needed and climate issues could also be dealt with naturally.  A National Water System must go forward.   A petition calling for this an be signed at:  wh.gov/DzBD

mememine
mememine

You believers would have to WANT this misery to happen and be “real” considering that the IPCC has never said any crisis WILL happen, only "might" happen or "could" happen etc. What thrill do you doomers get out of loving the planet with fear and condemning MY kids to the greenhouse gas ovens?

Show me an IPCC warning that doesn’t have a “maybe”.

Show me the millions of good people in the global scientific community who are acting like they condemned their own children as well to their CO2 deaths.

You fear mongers are obsessed with suffering, death, pain, guilt and misery. Why? How do you love a planet with fear and President Romney thanks you fear mongers for the votes directed his way.

Meanwhile, the entire world of SCIENCE, journalism and progressivism had allowed bank-funded and corporate-run “CARBON TRADING STOCK MARKETS” to trump 3rd world fresh water relief, starvation

*Obama had not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of the Unions addresses.

*Julian Assange was of course a climate change denier.

 *Occupywallstreet did not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets run by corporations.

 *Socialist Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a newly elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (death).

You modern day witch burners are end of the world freaks for the history books as you goose step us into a world of fear and needless panic.

You people that scare kids like this are climate cowards!

Surfboat Dan.
Surfboat Dan.

 Berta:  This is absolutely logical and reasonable.  Which is also why it probably will never get done.  It destroys the sting of dependence between the classes.

  And the churches will never discuss it at their masses.   Else the need of desperate prayer diminish as they too are invested in gasses.

Kristievpm
Kristievpm

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Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

One of the early warning signs of climate change is an outbreak of uncontrolled ranting caused by overheated anti-science ideologues.