Majority of Illinois crops are genetically engineered

July 8, 2014

WBEZ/Mariam Sobh
Lin Warfel stands next to his corn crop, which is grown with genetically modified seeds, much like the majority of crops in Illinois.

The recent rainfall in Illinois has provided some welcome relief for many farmers who worry that too much or too little moisture is tricky for corn and soybeans.

But farmers like Lin Warfel, a Central Illinois farmer who grows corn and soybeans in Tolono, may have found a solution.

“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, that means scientists have been able to identify and multiply the strongest and best genes.

He says he doesn’t necessarily have to worry about the weather anymore and has seen a huge difference in his yield compared to the years before GMOs 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 percent of corn in Illinois and 92 percent 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 withstands 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 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 GMOs

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 the hype that GMOs 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 GMOs.

Mariam Sobh is Midday Host and reporter at WBEZ Follow her @mariamsobh