Sustainability

The Surprising Link Between GMOs and the Chesapeake Bay

The U.S. soy industry benefits when it promotes methods of innovation and sustainability, and the soy checkoff works to identify and address market access issues related to new technologies for farmers. How do these innovations shape farming for U.S. soybean farmers and their customers? A Maryland soybean farmer discusses how biotechnology helps boost her sustainability.

The spark that helped ignite a nationwide revolution in modern farming practices was discovered growing near a pear tree in Queenstown, Maryland.

That’s where the first glyphosate-tolerant soybean emerged from a small plot of plants, all of which had been developed using biotechnology to alter their DNA. In this case, the soybean plant contained a piece of genetic code from a bacteria and another piece of code borrowed from a petunia.

Thanks to that development, more farmers have been able to fully embrace no-till farming, reducing tillage and the corresponding exposure of Maryland soils to wind and water erosion. That’s been good for the land and good for the Chesapeake Bay.

That soybean was among the first GMO plants to hit the U.S. market. GMOs are produced when the DNA from one organism is transferred into another, or when a plant breeder represses, or turns off, a gene.

“We grow GMO and non-GMO soybeans on our farm,” says Jennie Schmidt of Schmidt Farms in Sudlersville, Maryland. “GMO crops like Roundup Ready™ soybeans allow us to get a field ready for planting without plowing the soil, which disturbs a complex ecosystem that exists in the soil. It also helps us avoid erosion that can occur when soil is exposed due to tillage. Overall, GMO crops have provided huge benefits to the Chesapeake Bay in terms of sediment pollution reduction.”

New generations of GMO beans promise new benefits. A soybean variety that produces a healthier and more heat-stable soybean oil is now being grown in Maryland. The Delmarva Peninsula was one of just three places in the United States where the beans debuted in six years ago.

Foods developed through modern biotechnology have been on grocery store shelves for more than 20 years. Schmidt says she skips the organic aisle and feeds her family products raised in conventional agricultural systems like her family’s farm. “I grow this crop, so I know I can trust it,” she says. “There’s this misconception on the internet that just because a crop is tolerant of glyphosate or other herbicides, farmers ‘douse’ the crop with it. We do not. Spraying is expensive. When you add up the cost of chemicals, fuel and labor, and consider the effect of soil compaction and crop damage, you see that it’s not something a farmer would entertain lightly. I encourage consumers to think critically when they hear blanket statements and wild claims like that.”

Jennie Schmidt discusses soybean farming and GMOs with consumers on her Maryland farm.

This story originally appeared on mymarylandfarmers.com, the Maryland farmers’ website. Farmer checkoffs fund the Maryland Soybean Board and the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of U.S. Soy.
Susanne Zilberfarb
Susanne Zilberfarb

Executive Director

Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, Inc.

Susanne Zilberfarb is the executive director of the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation.