Grass & Grain

Grass & Grain 11-24-15

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With the busy harvest season, some family farms might hesitate at dialing back a day to showcase pro- duction agriculture. Cott Family Farms in Clay Coun- ty, however, welcomed the opportunity. Richard Cott and his son Kyle rolled out the red carpet earlier this fall and not only engaged K-State sorghum researchers in a combine ride, but also had meaningful discussions on the impact of new crop technologies at the farm level. The day was arranged by the Kansas Grain Sorghum Commis- sion. "When I received the call to support this experience, Cott Family Farms wanted to participate and do our part to share the production story with our researchers at K- State. The research team and our family both spend a lot of time thinking about sorghum, but we are thinking in two different worlds, the lab and the field," Kyle Cott said. The K-State research team making the farm visit was led by Geoff Morris, as- sistant professor of sorghum genetics and genomics. Other members included Sandeep Marla, research as- sociate; Davina Rhodes, vis- iting scholar; and graduate students Fanna Maina and Brian Wempe. Morris and his team are dedicated to discovering new opportunities within the sorghum genome for im- proved sorghum cold toler- ance and other breeding ob- jectives, eventually leading to improved hybrids for farmer fields. The KGSC recognizes the importance of K-State re- search and the value of on- going close interaction be- tween researchers and sorghum farmers in Kansas. "Kansas farmers know that sorghum drives farm profitability and is an excel- lent cropping choice in their rotation, but farmers need new management tools at the farm gate and that is why the commission partners with K- State," said Pat Damman, di- rector of Kansas Grain Sorghum. The KGSC recently in- vested more than $780,000 with K-State Research and Extension for 2015-2016 crop improvement research. "Our commissioners be- lieve in supporting a team of K-State researchers with di- verse disciplines, all dedicat- ed to sorghum research. With this harvest experience the commission expanded its in- vestment beyond dollars and to direct researcher experi- ence and understanding of production agriculture," said Jill Barnhardt, KGSC ad- ministrator. Maintaining a close col- laboration between re- searchers, producers, and Kansas Grain Sorghum pro- vides many benefits to the K-State research effort, said Gary Pierzynski, agronomy department head and distin- guished professor. "As a land grant universi- ty, we pride ourselves on using the entire spectrum of basic to applied research to solve real world problems for agriculture. The opportu- nity for one of our research groups to participate in sorghum harvest was an ex- cellent way for us to main- tain and strengthen our con- nection with producers," Pierzynski said. Morris said the farm visit was interesting and valuable By Lucas Shivers Conflicting viewpoints diverged with the movie, Farmland, followed by a panel discussion on geneti- cally modified organisms (GMOs). Organized by Kansas Farm Food Connec- tion and Kansas State Uni- versity's Food for Thought, the event featured competing viewpoints of the GMO issue on Nov. 12. Prior to the discussion, the Farmland feature film profiled five farmers and ranchers as they raised veg- etables, pigs, cattle and fruit. Then, three panelists pre- sented case studies and per- sonal examples of research and production. "I've been researching GMO benefits to farmers, the environment and our future for a long time," said Kevin Folta, pro- fessor and chairman of the horticultural sciences depart- ment at the University of Florida. "Over the past seven years, we've seen more of a visible role with GMOs, even with the controversy." Folta helped lead a project to sequence the strawberry genome by "understanding the nuts and bolts of the cell." "Generally, humans have been improving plants for thousands of years by breed- ing and selections," Folta said. "They tried to keep what was best, and this is how crops were domesticat- ed. Today, we wouldn't even recognize the native origins of our crops like wheat or corn." Stronger science has ac- celerated the progression and precision of GMOs. "Only in the last century have researchers begun to understand genetics," he said. "Only in the last 30 years have we been able to do get on a gene-by-gene level. Only in the last 20 years have we moved genes almost 'surgically' from things such as bacteria to plants to make crops insect resistant or drought toler- ance." Weighing both the bene- fits and risks, Folta shared opportunities and challenges concerning production and profits. "GMOs are saving costs and improving the en- vironment," Folta said. "There are a lot of additional traits left on the table that can make a big difference to improve more. We have more yields and longer growing opportunities. GMOs are a tool to use, not a silver bullet, and that's why I trust it." Benefits of GMOs Promoting a pro-GMO stance, Bob Mertz is a fourth generation Riley County family farmer who grows GMO crops. He is the presi- dent of the Riley County Farm Bureau and owner of River Creek Farms, along with his wife Mary. "I look at research as both basic and applied. Any direc- tion we go in the future has to be guided by research," said Mertz, recently named a Kansas Master Farmer. "The simple reason for me is less inputs and often more out- puts," Mertz said. "We dropped our costs of spray- ing and tillage. With conven- tional farming, there were many things that slowed us up. Removing those things that inhibited yield – from germination to pests to weed competition – we've gotten yields up." Mertz shared about hy- brid seed and patterns of pro- duction. "I need the seed and crops to match the profile of soils and placement with ir- rigation, so there are many factors at play," he said. "I'm comfortable with GMOs seed because it fit what I was looking for with a defensive seed for some marginal ground. There are a lot of op- tions." Seeing Alternative Sides On the other hand, Annie Carlson, who uses non- GMO crops, works with Morning Joy Farm near Mer- cer, N.D. "When I married my hus- band, both of us from con- ventional farms, we saw that we couldn't compete," Carl- son said. "I spent a whole winter Googling 'profitable small farms.' We raise lots of crops, grass fed lamb, pas- tured pork and poultry. We also have a commercial kitchen to add value and di- rect market everything from our farm." Morning Joy Farm avoids the potential risks of GMOs as a key feature in a niche market. "We do not use any GMOs for several reasons including decreasing soil health, promoting monocul- tures, eliminates seed sover- eignty, property rights and potential crossing of species boundaries which releases genetic material never before seen on our planet," she said. One audience question ex- amined the debate of feeding more people with fewer re- sources. "In terms of looking at the 'nine billion people to feed' argument, we need to address food waste first since we throw out more than third of our food," Carl- son said. "For example, 70% of our grain is fed to rumi- nants, and we could alter this with grass-fed animals. We try to grow in a perennial- type system, which are also more tolerant of climate pat- terns." The panel answered ques- tions from KSU students, Research and Extension agents, landowners and stakeholders about food pro- duction, science, technology, research and global hunger. "In terms of the 'sky is falling' stance, we don't see research to back it up," Folta said. "There are many big deals, but in general, the sky is not falling. GMOs are a way to improve crops and do it with precision." Kansas Farm Food Connection and Kansas State University's Food for Thought or- ganized a panel discussion on GMO issues with Wyatt Thompson, facilitator and KSU sportscaster; Kevin Folta with the University of Florida; Bob Mertz of River Creek Farms outside of Manhattan; and Annie Carlson of Morning Joy Farm near Mercer, N.D. Photo by Lucas Shivers GMO panel discusses farms and food at Food for Thought lecture Kansas Grain Sorghum sponsors harvest experience for KSU sorghum research team Kyle (partially obscured) and Richard Cott (white cap) welcomed from left, Geoff Morris, Sandeep Marla, Davina Rhodes, Fanna Maina, and Brian Wempe to take part in the sorghum harvest experience. Courtesy photo Continued on page 3 11-24-15 Sect. 1.qxp:Layout 1 11/19/15 12:49 PM Page 1

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