Actual significant technological progress, at least potentially

by on February 19, 2013 at 5:16 pm in Food and Drink, Science | Permalink

Drought tolerance would be the most significant new biotech trait introduced in the near future, Mr James said, “because drought is, by far, the single most important constraint to biotech to increased productivity for crops worldwide”. Monsanto will launch the first drought tolerant GM maize in the US this year.

From the FT, here is more.  Furthermore this is additional evidence that we have been wise to stick with GM crops.

1 Edward Burke February 19, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Ahhh, clever! –but will drought-tolerant maize yield drought-tolerant ethanol?

2 mw February 19, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Yes, more corn! Just what the doctor ordered.

3 mavery February 20, 2013 at 10:21 am

Says the guy who will be complaining this summer about the high prices of chicken, pork, and beef.

4 lxm February 19, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Yes, better crops. I’m all for it.

But what about the unintended consequences of seeds becoming patented? Is stuff like this important or real?

…a recently released Center for Food Safety report notes, the concentration of market power among Monsanto and a handful of other companies has led to skyrocketing seed prices and less innovation by smaller firms:

USDA data show that since the introduction of GE seed, the average cost of soybean seed to plant one acre has risen by a dramatic 325 percent, from $13.32 to $56.58. Similar trends exist for corn and cotton seeds: cotton seeds spiked 516 percent from 1995-2011 and corn seed costs rose 259 percent over the same period.

[…] USDA economists have found that seed industry consolidation has reduced research and likely resulted in fewer crop varieties on offer: “Those companies that survived seed industry consolidation appear to be sponsoring less research relative to the size of their individual markets than when more companies were involved… Also, fewer companies developing crops and marketing seeds may translate into fewer varieties offered.”

5 Dismalist February 19, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Skyrocketing seed prices would seem to induce more innovative activity, not less. After all, potential profits would be greater, no?

Maybe the non-survivng companies just did bad research.

6 Roy February 19, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Patents actually expire, and there are multiple ways to improve drought tolerance. That Roundup resistant soy that everyone screams at Monsanto about goes out of patent next year.

7 prior_approval February 20, 2013 at 1:40 am

And depending on the current case before the Supreme Court, Monsanto can pull its seed from the market just before the patent expires, and replace them with a newly patented variety –

‘n a way, this case originated because Monsanto is a “victim” of its own success. Like many soybean farmers, Bowman plants two crops per year. He bought patented Monsanto seeds to plant his first crop. The second crop would be planted after the winter wheat crop, and would be more likely to fail. For this riskier crop of “wheat beans,” Bowman didn’t want to pay the high price for patented seeds, so he bought soybeans from a grain elevator, knowing they would be a mix of various grains. Buying from a grain elevator, he didn’t have to sign the agreement Monsanto usually compels farmers to sign, agreeing not to re-plant future generations of seeds.

Still, since Monsanto beans are so ubiquitous, Bowman knew the great majority would be Roundup Ready. Bowman was able to go ahead and spray his crops with Roundup, knowing they would nearly all benefit from having the Roundup Ready traits.

That practice led to him being sued by Monsanto. Bowman was found to infringe Monsanto’s patent, and ordered to pay more than $30,000; with costs and interest, that’s grown to more than $84,000. Bowman’s legal argument is that he’s protected by the “first sale” doctrine, and that Monsanto’s patent rights are exhausted after the first sale. But Monsanto said that Bowman was making a replica of its patented beans, which shouldn’t be allowed for any generation of beans.

Reading a transcript of today’s oral arguments, it becomes clear that Bowman is unlikely to be able to fight off Monsanto in this battle. The justices were almost universally skeptical of his argument that Monsanto was asking for a special rule or exception to patent law. Chief Justice John Roberts immediately picked up Monsanto’s idea that its giant investment in Roundup Ready would be eviscerated if farmers like Bowman were able to propagate its patented crops.’

Though if Monsanto tries to follow the Disney model of gutting the law for its own benefit, they may find the rest of the world will not play along. For example, it is no more possible to patent living organisms in the EU that it is possible to patent such things as one click shopping. And at least in Germany, if a GMO crop contaminates an other farmer’s crop, the person planting the GMO crop is liable. A legal principle which has also been applied to Monsanto in Canada, in the part of the Schmeiser case that has noit been so widely reported –

‘In March 2008, an out-of-court settlement between Monsanto and Schmeiser has an agreement for Monsanto to clean up the entire GMO-canola crop on Schmeiser’s farm at a cost of $660.’

In other words, just because Monsanto finds that it seeds have spread does not mean they can simply claim the farmer is at fault – and if they sue the farmer, then it appears Monsanto must ensure that its seed does not spread to fields where the farmer does not want them.

GMO crops are about a lot more than technology – much the same way that the GPL is about a lot more simple licensing.

8 wrparks February 20, 2013 at 8:03 am

“And at least in Germany, if a GMO crop contaminates an other farmer’s crop, the person planting the GMO crop is liable. A legal principle which has also been applied to Monsanto in Canada, in the part of the Schmeiser case that has noit been so widely reported –”

Yes, this is the key. Schmeiser was a moron. He was a canola breeder whose breeding lines were contaminated with patented genetic material. He should have sued the pants off of Monsanto. Instead, he actively selected for the trait causing him all kinds of legal troubles. He had a home run case, and through forced errors made it a base hit at best.

Another ploy that would work quite well would be for an Iowa farmer to get a contract for non-GMO corn to be shipped overseas for a special market. Plant it right in the middle of GMO corn (which is pretty much anywhere, Iowa) and sue Monsanto for destroying his crop.

And for the record, in the words of an old corn breeder at a seminar I once attended, we have drought tolerant corn and have for decades. It is called sorghum.

9 Hazel Meade February 20, 2013 at 10:34 am

A base hit? The Canadian Supreme Court found him liable and ordered him to pay Monsanto for violating their patent.
And he was a moron only because he thought he could get away with selecting in favor of the Roundup Ready trait. He knew what he was doing.

Another ploy that would work quite well would be for an Iowa farmer to get a contract for non-GMO corn to be shipped overseas for a special market. Plant it right in the middle of GMO corn (which is pretty much anywhere, Iowa) and sue Monsanto for destroying his crop.

And you would consider this ethical, why, exactly? because you just hate Monsanto that much? or because you hate GMOs?

10 wrparks February 20, 2013 at 11:01 am

I haven’t followed the story religiously, but last I heard, the canadian supreme court has basically called it a wash. He was found to have violated their patent by intentionally selecting their trait and replanting it. They were found to have contaminated his breeding stock. He come out $600 ahead (not including the, enourmous I’m sure, legal fees) plus is a hero to the greenies.

I neither hate GMO’s or monsanto. In fact I have been loosely affiliated with them off and on for years and work in the crop improvement business. I have personally been involved with GMO’s since about the early 90’s and am an avid supporter of the technology.

Is it ethical for a farmer in the middle of Iowa to be prevented from growing value-added certified GMO free corn because he is surrounded by patented pollen who cannot maintain control of their product?

11 Dan Weber February 20, 2013 at 11:06 am

If you find RR crops on your land against your will, Monsanto will pay you money to destroy the crop, above the market rate you’d get if you actually grew it and harvested it. There is no need to sue.

12 wrparks February 20, 2013 at 11:15 am

You are correct Dan. But if anti-GMO sentiment gets high enough to create a market that increases the price of certified GMO free corn, Monsanto could no longer do this. You simply can’t grow GMO free corn very well in the US but many would try, fail, and Monsanto would have to pay out at the higher GMO-free rate. If they try to pay out at the commodity corn rate, then you will see the lawsuits.

These are all issues that will be worked out in the next decade and much will be determined by fickle public opinion.

13 JWatts February 19, 2013 at 7:28 pm

“USDA data show that since the introduction of GE seed, the average cost of soybean seed to plant one acre has risen by a dramatic 325 percent, from $13.32 to $56.58.”

I’m guessing that the average farmer considers the additional cost ($43 per acre) to be trivial compared to the benefit of using the GM crop. Obviously the farmer can always use cheap non-GM seeds.

14 Ray Lopez February 20, 2013 at 5:30 am

Right. And I’ll point out that the much vaunted “innovation by smaller firms of a patented article” is usually nothing but stealing an invention and incrementally improving it. The Japanese did this with consumer electronics a generation ago, and it worked out well, but at the cost of gutting US manufacturers. The US did this to the UK in the 19th century (and even rewrote their patent laws so you have a year to steal a UK invention and patent it in the USA), but that does not make it less wrong or long term harmful. Simply put: it does not pay to invent. It pays to steal. I think even Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” has something on this. Only people who believe there is a ‘first mover advantage that does not require patents” (not always true) and those that think “inventions are inevitable; great men don’t invent, but rather an invention is exogenous and a product of its times” disagree with the above.

15 bob February 21, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Not just that, but with soybeans, unlike corn,the risk of cross pollination with a nearby GM variety of soybeans is pretty much zero. This also means that it’d be too expensive to manufacture hybrid soybean seeds, so pretty much every kind of soybean seeds you can buy can be easily replanted year after year while maintaining quality, something you can’t really do with many other crops.

This is why you see agrobusiness suing Soybean farmers a whole lot more than corn farmers: If your soybeans have GMO characteristics, it’s not as if you can claim it happened by accident.

16 Mike M February 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm

We have been “wise” to do GM – but only until we are not – because we have replaced a robust system that we don’t fully understand with a fragile system that we only think we understand.

Nature is an extremely complicated system, to put it mildly. Economists can’t even model people, and they think we know the effects of tinkering with genes and ecosystems. Beautiful.

17 Dean February 19, 2013 at 6:41 pm

If we don’t understand it, how do we know if it is more fragile?

18 david February 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm

It’s only fragile in the right direction, you see. Anything you favour increases its adaptability and flexibility, anything you dislike increases its fragility.


19 Mike M February 19, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Um, no – it’s more like anything that evolved in a diverse ecosystem over 500M years (and is still diverse) – is not invincible, but likely fairly robust – or even if it’s not, there are lots of slightly different alternatives (genetic variation). On the other hand, when we have GM, we have no clue what the unintended consequences are – so we replace all (95% anyway) of the wheat varieties with one with 18″ stalk – maybe we changed something (code for protein or whatever) that has a role we didn’t realize. Many will probably work out fine – but if we’re wrong, bye bye 95% of wheat. (that’s what I meant by fragile – I would think economists would understand that eliminating diversification increases risk – of course, it all could turn out fine, but I’d rather not bet – we can’t figure out the finacial system or economics – when we get that wrong, we have a crash – if we GM all of the food and get that wrong (maybe even just once, but badly…)).

It’s like the old story about don’t take down the fence if you don’t know why it’s there (which I think Tyler maybe even has quoted?) Nobody really understands genes and their interaction with either the organism or indirectly with the ecosystem.

20 maguro February 19, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Yeah, I’m sure GM crops are less robust than wild plants, but are they significantly more fragile than modern non-GM agricultural products?

21 nazgulnarsil February 19, 2013 at 7:40 pm

It isn’t GM vs natural evolved foods 500M years old. It’s GM food vs domesticated food that we’ve bred for characteristics we like over the last 10k years.

22 Mike M February 19, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Both of these are fair points, although I think GM gives you a lot more ability – you can’t crossbreed a mouse and a wheat plant, but with GM, you can introduce a mouse gene…

23 Mark Thorson February 19, 2013 at 8:39 pm

A similar argument can be used against growing any non-native species anywhere. Where I live, acorns were a staple of the diet of the native Americans who lived here centuries ago. I suppose by not eating acorns, I’m placing the entire planet at risk. After all, we just don’t understand complex, interacting ecological relationships. I should eat acorns by firelight, clothed in buckskin and rabbit pelts, drinking water from the nearby creek.

24 Ed Snack February 19, 2013 at 10:00 pm

When you talk of introducing a “mouse gene” typically you are talking of introducing a gene that exists in a similar plant but where the mouse version of that gene is easier to obtain and use. The typical example is using genes from a Toad I think, but it is the same gene as exists in many places only the toad entity was readily available. Normally one would have little use in introducing utterly unrelated genes although one may of course experiment in such ways for useful products. For example producing medically useful proteins can be a desirable trait and one profitable even in small quantities.

25 prior_approval February 20, 2013 at 2:34 am

‘A similar argument can be used against growing any non-native species anywhere.’

A policy that the Australians agree with at this point. But when you have a continent for a test case, and the tools available after the Enlightenment, it isn’t exactly difficult to measure, track, and understand what something like rabbits or cats will do to an ecosystem over decades.

26 wrparks February 20, 2013 at 8:15 am

“On the other hand, when we have GM, we have no clue what the unintended consequences are – so we replace all (95% anyway) of the wheat varieties with one with 18″ stalk – maybe we changed something (code for protein or whatever) that has a role we didn’t realize. ”

You know that the semi-dwarf wheat varieties have nothing to do with GMO’s right?

27 Hazel Meade February 20, 2013 at 10:40 am

There is no such thing as a “mouse gene”. Genes code for proteins. The mouse genome is a volume made up of a language made up of genes. The same language and the same genes can code for something else. Taking a gene from one species and adding it to another isn’t much ddifferent than taking a word from one book and adding it to another.
Or (better analogy) porting an algorithm from Microsoft Word into an Android app.

Genes are just code. They don’t have some magic “mouseness” aura attached to them.

28 Hazel Meade February 20, 2013 at 10:57 am

In any case, if GM crops are less robust they should die out quickly and won’t be an issue.

I thought the supposed problem was that they would be “superweeds” .

29 Rahul February 19, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Does it have to be one GM crop? Can we have a diversity of GM crops? I’m only speculating.

30 wrparks February 20, 2013 at 8:11 am

Unfortunately, agriculture isn’t nature and bears no resemblance to it. It has always been fragile and through breeding we have reduced the gene pool making it more fragile. See the 1970’s epidemic of southern corn leaf blight. The most robust agriculture would be planting heterogeneous landraces. Of course, then you are more likely to get 50 bushels per acre of corn, not 200.

Every improvement made to a crop also makes it more fragile. This is nothing new, since the earliest selections made by primitive man was based on the same principal. Modern man has just perfected it through genetic testing and chemistry.

31 wrparks February 20, 2013 at 8:34 am

To expand on this subject, GMO’s actually provide the opportunity to reduce fragility dramatically. Breeding reduces the gene pool’s diversity. Less diversity=more fragile.

GMO’s offer the ability to dramatically increase the diversity of the crop gene pool, with concurrent dramatic reductions in fragility by introducing novel genes into regionally adapted backgrounds. Remember, by a breeders definition, a regionally adapted background is one that has been selected for a certain set of conditions and as such is much more fragile. Introducing pyramids of desirable traits (nitrogen fixation, drought tolerance, disease resistance) to this background reduces fragility.

So far, all we have gotten with GMO’s is the low hanging fruit of herbicide resistance and insect resistance. These other traits are much harder to engineer because they are often not under control of a single genetic locus. Nitrogen fixing corn is the holy grail of GM.

32 Mark Thorson February 20, 2013 at 11:23 pm

I’d argue with that. A faster rubisco should be the holy grail. Rubisco is a single enzyme that constitutes more biomass than any other. It performs the rate-limiting step in photosynthesis, which is fixing carbon. It is also perhaps the slowest enzyme in Nature. If you could make this one enzyme a little bit faster, you could apply that breakthrough to all green plants. Even 5 or 10% would have staggering consequences in food, animal feed, fuel, timber, etc.

33 Slugger February 19, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I understand that 25-30% of US maize production goes for industrial ethanol. If we got rid of gasahol my car would run better, and the amount of maize available for food would increase a lot. I do not object to maize being turned into Wild Turkey.

34 Steve Sailer February 19, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Seaside golf courses have been switching to an obscure grass called paspalum that can tolerate having saltwater sprayed on it much better than most grasses. It’s a great way to kill weeds, too. Just sprinkle the fairways with water pumped out of the ocean. Kills the weeds, not the paspalum grass.

Paspalum has helped Mexico develop golf courses along its long and scenic, but often dry coastline. If Cuba goes capitalist and thus golf returns (Castro loved baseball and hated golf), then paspalum could have an impact on how many golf resorts could be developed along its long coastline.

35 Steve Sailer February 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Paspalum is not genetically modified, however. It was popularized by golf superintendents in the southeast looking around for grass that thrived next to the surf.

36 JWatts February 19, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Drought tolerant maize could be a significant boon to Africa. Irrigation is expensive and Africa already produces a lot of corn.

37 mulp February 19, 2013 at 7:57 pm

But Africa has a native crop that is already well adapted to Africa’s climate: sorghum.

The drive is on, however, to make Africa dependent on US corporations, so the idea is to have African farmers grow crops ideal for the Americas, send them to US corporate factories which then manufacture US brand foods which are then sold to Africans. When Africans can grow US food profitably and afford to buy US processed food, then Africans will be self sufficient.

38 JWatts February 20, 2013 at 10:26 am

Personally, I’m interested in Africans having the capability of feeding themselves. And I don’t give much credence to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

39 Rahul February 19, 2013 at 11:20 pm

India would lap up drought tolerant almost anything.

40 mulp February 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Let’s see, before GM crops, there were many varieties of each crop which had different characteristics, and the farmer selected one based on soil quality, rain pattern, crop rotation, fertilizer expense, juggling all the parameters to maximize profits.

With GM crops, one seed is designed by Monsanto for an ideal growing environment, and the farmer simply plants the GM seed year after year, relying on the seed agent to prescribe the fertilizer, the watering, herbicide, pesticide application. After all, with water wells and pump and irrigation systems, growing great yields is no longer left to chance and the randomness of weather.

This is a repeat of the “Dust Bowl” farming disaster. The government handed out land so everyone could live the American Dream, and with tractors and combines the plains of Texas and Oklahoma could be turned over and made productive.

Of course, old time farmers who resist change and technology grew sorghum along with corn and had very good yields thanks to the ideal growing conditions for sorghum which burned out the corn next to it.

Why is it necessary to bring in Monsanto to develop crops suited to drought when millions of years of evolution have already produced a huge selection of crops to pick from?

41 Cliff February 19, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Uh… ask the farmers who buy it?

42 Rich farmer February 20, 2013 at 8:23 am

They are forced into dependency by selfish capitalists and get stuck in eternal mystery.

43 JWatts February 20, 2013 at 10:27 am

“Uh… ask the farmers who buy it?”

The Left is way to sophisticated to rely on a bunch of dumb, hick farmers about anything as important as growing crops.

44 wrparks February 20, 2013 at 8:22 am

The trend of consolidation in seed companies started well before GMO’s. 50 years ago there were dozens of regional breeders. GMO’s just provided the final funds needed to complete the consolidation and merge the remaining big players. The consolidation was almost certainly going to happen anyway, though perhaps not to the current degree of 5 -7 remaining players.

For a while, the job of breeding regionally adapted varieties fell to university researchers who then license these varieties to one of the major players. But, with university budgets shrinking Monsanto, Bayer AG, Syngenta, etc are all upping their research into basic breeding and germplasm enhancement.

45 wrparks February 20, 2013 at 8:25 am

And to add, the original consolidation occurred based on herbicide and pesticide formulas and the resulting income from those. Now, it is GMO’s.

46 Hazel Meade February 20, 2013 at 11:04 am

, before GM crops, there were many varieties of each crop which had different characteristics, and the farmer selected one based on soil quality, rain pattern, crop rotation, fertilizer expense, juggling all the parameters to maximize profits.

Right. Because high-yield hybrids didn’t exist back then.
Your idea of what things were like before GM is a fantasy. Crop breeders have bene around for a long time, and farmers have been relying on a few strains of hybrid seed that can’t be replanted (due to the nature of hybrids) for decades . The main crop-rotation pattern is soybean-corn, which are both available in GM varieties. And nobody has stopped guaging rainfall patterns, fertilizer, expense, or rotating crops just because they have GM seeds.

47 bob February 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm

The thing is, most of the crops we have do not come from millions of years of evolution alone: Everything that was planted 200 years ago was already heavily domesticated. Humans can speed up the natural process dramatically.

You can still plant sorghum today: Heck, you can buy GMO sorghum seeds too. But a farmer plants corn because, if the weather conditions are good, he’ll me a whole lot more money if he planted corn, so each farmer makes his own cost benefit analysis and does what he wants: It’s not as if we are running a planned economy here.

Now, if you want diversity within a crop, you can already find it at any store: The corn varieties that work well in northern Texas are not the same that work in Minesotta: Different amount of growing days and all that. When you add soil conditions, expected amount of rain, chances of being affected by specific diseases and all that, we get a rather broad variety of seeds out there, from which to find the ideal for the expected conditions. What stops agribusiness from just commercializing 100 kinds of corn seed, and then using the specifics of your growing environment to figure out what will yield better?

48 Crocodile Chuck February 19, 2013 at 8:07 pm

“Furthermore this is additional evidence that we have been wise to stick with GM crops.”

Wise to stick with GM crops? Its illegal in the USA to even indicate their presence in the labelling of a food product!

So how can a consumer make a reasoned decision to purchase food from a GMO or one which is naturally sourced?

Potted Rear View Summary: GMO crops were promised to the public as technological miracles with disease resistance, or, more dramatically, with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen.

What we actually got: crops with ‘resistance’ to the the agrichem producers’ own proprietary pesticides/herbicides!

Upshot: the ‘resistance’ is wearing off, requiring ever greater amounts of pesticides/herbicides to be applied.

And now the promise is drought resistance?

What are we going to get this time?

49 Chris MacDonald February 19, 2013 at 9:15 pm

No, it’s not illegal to indicate the presence of GM content. The FDA has sometimes enforced accuracy-in-labelling laws overzealously, but that’s not quite the same.

50 JWatts February 20, 2013 at 10:28 am

Obligatory XKCD:

51 Hazel Meade February 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm

There aren’t any “pesticide resistant” crops.
Bt corn is a PEST-resistant crop. It uses the same gene as the bacterium that “Organic” farmers spray on their crops to protect them from insects.

Thus reducing chemical pesticide use.

Herbicide resistant crops are used to permit farmers to practice “no-till” agriculture. They spray with roundup (with is a benign herbicide compared to the alternatives), which kills the weeds and preserves the Reoundup Ready crop, and this prevents soil erosion.

52 Yi February 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I see the anti-science eco-freaks are having their typical spittle-flecked reaction.

Environmentalism is a religion, not a science.

53 Andrew' February 19, 2013 at 8:47 pm

“we have been wise to stick with GM crops”

What strikes me as odd about this notion is that there is no reason not go swing for the fences with GM. It’s true you have to identify a specific gene, but it seems like the very first one you get to work should be a winner. I don’t understand why you’d have to ‘stick with them’ or treat them as an aggregate, except that the party of science and environment legislates it thus.

54 John February 20, 2013 at 12:27 am

California just voted on a proposition to require labeling on GM foods. Luckily it failed, but not by that much. It’s not that hard to imagine a world where GM crops are illegal.

55 Trey February 19, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Drought resistance is a good thing. Drought is always going to be happening somewhere. But I’ll bet most folks would be surprised that the IPCC now says, using Roger Pielke’s words, “US drought has decreased since the middle of the past century.”

56 I_Affe February 20, 2013 at 9:00 am

“Drought tolerance would be the most significant new biotech trait introduced in the near future”

When I first read this I thought it said “drone tolerance”.

57 DK February 20, 2013 at 10:16 am

This corn carries neomycin phosphotransferase gene (used as a selection marker). It confers resistance to kanamycin and neomycin. There could be unintended consequences from growing this much biomass with antibiotic resistance gene.

58 DK February 20, 2013 at 10:20 am

E.g., lateral gene transfer *will* happen.

59 Jameson Burt February 20, 2013 at 10:35 am

As others mentioned, sorghum is drought tolerant and needs few inputs.
Sorghum seed costs about 1/3 that of corn,
requires virtually no fertilizer,
and minimal water.
Those lower costs for sorghum result in net sorghum profits comparable to net corn profits.
Nonetheless, Nebraska had almost 2 million Sorghum acres in 1978, but now has only 200,000 acres in Sorghum.

60 Roy February 20, 2013 at 11:06 am

Sorghum is an inferior crop. Ag is not just about yield, it is also about demand. The market for sorghum is almost nonexistant. There is a reason sorghum, once a dominant food crop, was replaced in most of its range by maize. While I am all for getting rid of all agricultural subsidies, I don’t think there is much of a natural market for your miracle crop. You might as well start crusading against duram wheat. Or maybe you will start pointing out the supposed advantages of teosinte.

61 wrparks February 20, 2013 at 11:41 am

Actually, sorghum is making a huge comeback in eastern NC. It is much better suited to marginal land than corn, especially in dry years. Since most corn is used for livestock feed in the southeast, sorghum is a decent substitute that gets the grower about 85-90% of corn prices/bushel.

Sorghum has a shorter growing season so it can be double cropped with wheat, seed is much cheaper, requires less nutrients and is more favorable for the regions climate (drought tolerance).

Total yield is lower (often by 50% or more), but the math generally works out at equal profit/acre for wheat/sorghum double crop or slightly in favor of one or the other depending on weather (basically luck). And you need less luck for a successful sorghum crop.

Corn is still better on what they call “corn land”, the heavy dark stuff. But on the marginal land that is abundant in the region sorghum is often superior.

62 Hazel Meade February 20, 2013 at 11:59 am

The argument (at least to me) seems to be “but look, we already have a drought tolerant crop, we don’t NEED GMO corn!” As if the whole country should switch it’s food base over to sorghum in order to avoid reliance on the demon GMOs.

63 Hazel Meade February 20, 2013 at 10:44 am

The frustrating thing to me about GM is that when it comes to this subject people who are otherwise sane and reasonable on subjects like climate sciences instantly through scientific credibility out the window and immediately start believing all sorts of pseudo-scientific hogwash dredged up by basement dwelling conspiracy cranks.

Every single scientific society that deals in plant science or microbiology has endorsed the safety of plant biotechnology.
Apparently the IPCC is the holiest of holies but when the National Academy of Science says that gene splicing is safe their just a mad-scientist industry shills out to destroy the planet.

64 JWatts February 20, 2013 at 11:33 am

Frakking humans! Can’t live with them, can’t shoot them. In public anyway.

65 Ryan T February 20, 2013 at 4:43 pm

At what point is the discussion about Monsanto and GMOs at this blog going to shift to concerns about monopolies and how they use litigation to impede innovation?

66 Jordan February 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Would like to hear more on this topic also.
Others: Determining how much funding should go to GMO versus other research. Once you get past the crazies, the most even-handed discussions seem to be about how much faith and research dollars we should put in GMOs as a solution. Have there been attempts to quantify here? It seems like if a disproportionate amount of funding was going into GMO research, that could be ‘artificially’ lowering the cost to produce GMO seeds relative to others. Just how much research money goes into other kinds of ag research, and is this enough? Is our system set up to encourage research in the appropriate areas, i.e. areas ‘most likely’ to to help our ag situation over the short AND longterm?

67 Dustin Edmison February 20, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Monsanto and the other big seed producers aren’t what’s stifling innovation in GMO tech from small producers. The costs of bringing a new trait to market are astronomical. Most of those costs are associated with government regulation in the United States and abroad, and the US has relatively tolerant GMO laws.

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