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This post is in response to @permagriculture's question" "In your view has any genetic material from #GM Soya found it's way into organic crops?"

The heirloom tomato farmer must keep unwanted pollen from non-heirloom tomatoes from his flowers if he wants to collect the seed for next year. The sweet corn farmer must keep  unwanted pollen from field corn from her silks if she wants her corn to remain sweet. The mandarin orange farmer must keep all pollen away from his flowers if he wants to get the highest price for seedless fruit. Gene flow is a potential problem for any farmer with a specialty crop.

The problem of gene flow and pollen "contamination" is an old problem that exists regardless of genetic engineering. Yes, I am sure there has been some pollen from GM soy that has pollinated organic soy, although without seeing any evidence to the contrary I would say such pollination would be low if organic farmers are using the required distances from conventional fields. I'm also sure that organic pollen has "contaminated" GM and non-organic, and while that won't be a problem in most cases, there's been some research showing that weeds and insects move from organic farms onto conventional farms, which any conventional farmer would say is a problem. In addition, there are some upcoming GM traits where pollen from non-GM could ruin them, such as RNAi allergen free peanuts. 

I personally believe that all farmers need to be cognizant of what their effect on neighboring farms will be, and work with their neighbors to find solutions. Not only is there legal precedent for controlling any of your property that leaves your land, there is common courtesy and the idea of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you".

Coexistence among different types of farmers is a complex subject area. I've written about this idea in two posts but I don't think I've even scratched the surface. This is a issue that needs discussion with compassion and openmindedness. While different farmers use different methods, all are in the business in producing food the best way they know how, and just trying to make a living. I think there is a lot of common ground if we approach the situation carefully.I don't think it's useful to throw blame around or demonize anyone, though.

I hope you'll consider reading these posts. If you have any thoughts on coexistence, I'd love to hear them. 

Co-existence isn’t easy
Coexistence takes conversation
Sam Vance's profile photoJohn Poteet's profile photoAnastasia Bodnar's profile photo
@permagriculture says "In your view is there a upper limit on the amount of GM crops we should grow? Would you be happy with 100% GM?"

I said "I think there is a need for different tools in different situations. Why use a screwdriver when problem calls for a wrench?" 

But of course I'd like to elaborate.

Current use of GM traits (herbicide tolerance and insect resistance) is not in accordance with integrated pest management principles. To deal successfully with any pest in the long term, one needs to use multiple pest control methods. In farming that means rotation of crops and rotation of pesticides. Growing Bt corn year after year on the same land or even adjacent land means that insects can evolve resistance to Bt. Growing Roundup Ready soy year after year on the same land or even adjacent land means that weeds can evolve resistance to glyphosate. This reduces the benefit of these traits to the farmer and means that the relatively safe pesticides are losing their usefulness. If farmers as a whole had been more careful with the traits, using them sparingly, then we wouldn't see so much resistance because there would be limited selection pressure on the pests for that single pest control method.

Does that mean there should be an upper limit? I don't know how one would even go about calculating that. Maybe one could come up with a complex model to describe the evolution of resistance under different situations but I think it's much easier to say that all farmers should use IPM so they can be good stewards not just of the land but of the pesticides.
Next up: "So 100% GM would worry you? Why? It's completely safe isn't it?"

Is there any single trait or method that all farms should use? I can't think of any. Even something as basic as tractors won't work in every situation, such as very steep hills or swampy areas. 

GM is not a monolith, it is a method used to introduce traits. Whether it's adding a nutrient, inducing disease resistance, making the plants tolerant to herbicides, or anything else - the usefulness of the trait will be very dependent on the exact situation.

In the case of any disease resistance, pesticide tolerance, insect resistance, etc - planting the trait when it is not needed (when the pest the trait protects against isn't there in high enough levels to negatively effect yields or when another method like rotation could be used instead) could result in the pest evolving resistance to the trait. 100% coverage of the trait would make the trait useless, given enough time.

Next up: "OK just read your 100% G+ comment. The point is that the whole technical 'masters of nature' approach that is flawed."

The whole point here is that we have to work with natural systems. Trying to force all farms to be exactly the same, forcing the same traits or methods on all farms, will not give the results we want. Sure, we can produce a lot of corn and soy for a while, but the negative effects of one-method-fits-all approach have been accumulating. We have insect resistance to not just Bt but also other insecticides, we have weed resistance to not just Roundup but all types of herbicides, we have increase nematodes and "bad" soil microorganisms due to poor soil quality, we have huge erosion problems, fertilizer run off, etc. 

We have to work within natural systems, use a variety of methods depending on the specific climate, soil, etc of the farm. We need to choose crop combinations that allow us to optimize production and minimize environmental impact. If you want to think that counts as a "masters of nature" approach, then that's your opinion, but I think that's the best we're going to get, the best way we can produce the food and other products we need with the most long term sustainability. 

And: "Genetic diversity: Good thing or bad thing?"

I wonder if you know how nuanced that question is. What do you mean by genetic diversity? Diversity of genetics in a single species of crop on the single farm level? Averaged across all farms? Diversity of crops on a single farm? Across farms? Diversity of other non-crop organisms?

Of course the more diversity the more resilient the system. There's many examples of "simple" ecosystems in nature where each species depends on one other such that if one falls for whatever reason the whole ecosystem falls. Not very resilient. In a diverse ecosystem where there is both biodiversity in types of organisms and genetic diversity in each species (although not necessarily in each individual population) then any species can shift in response to environmental changes whatever they may be. 

Farm diversity is difficult, though. A farmer must grow what she can sell to make a living. If the only market is for corn, it doesn't make sense to grow amaranth. If he harvests with a combine, it doesn't make sense to have all of the plants be genetically different such that they are all different sizes and maturing at different times. We have to balance diversity with practicality. I think there are ways that reasonable balance can be achieved, but it will vary from farm to farm and region to region.

What consumers can do to help is to buy more varied items, increase demand for diversity. Try amaranth and lentils instead of corn and beef and Twinkies. Try red wheat and purple corn, seek out genetic diversity in your food supply. If the market is there, more farmers will be willing to diversify and grow those "new" crops.

We also need more investment in extension and research, so that farmers can easily find out what works in their region without having to risk so much. Farmers are always willing to try new things but have to be shown some proof that it works first, before they risk their livelihood.

As fun as this has been, I can't play quiz show anymore, I need to get to work. I look forward to some in depth responses on whatever medium of your choosing, be it on Google+ or other venues.
I think Vertical Farming will become a viable option for any specialty crop as well as areas with little farmable acreage.
People in glass houses should grow crops ALL YEAR LONG
The problem is that when a GM crop contaminates the seed on a no GM farmer the non-GM farmer can and will be sued by Monsanto. Since there's no way to separate GM and non GM crops 100% effectively the GM seed companies will eventually end up owning the rights to all the seed. That would be assuming that GMOs are safe which is an assumption I don't agree with. 
+John Poteet I don't like the idea of lawsuits against people who did not intentionally break the law any more than you do. The thing is, I don't actually know of any examples where Monsanto has sued a farmer who wasn't intentionally breaking patent law by saving seeds that have a patented trait. I also haven't heard of any cases where Monsanto or another seed company sued for infringement of plant variety protection. 

Schmeiser is the most famous case, and the court showed that he intentionally saved seed with the RR trait so he could use that trait. Parr is the other famous case, and he was inciting farmers to break the law and assisting them in breaking the law. 

I've repeatedly asked people who say that Monsanto sues farmers for accidental pollination, but have never received a response other than Schmeiser or Parr. Part of this may be due to settlement agreements that require all parties to keep the details private - but surely if Monsanto is suing so many farmers at least a few have refused mediation and have gone to court, right?

I'm a big fan of having more information so I can re-form my thoughts about the world based on the best possible evidence. If you have reliable information or examples about Monsanto behaving in the way you describe, I would love to hear it.

Now, it seems to me that if people don't like the idea of patenting or otherwise using intellectual protection on things that reproduce (vs widgets that don't reproduce), there'd be more of an effort to change things. The history of patenting seeds is long but that doesn't mean it can't be changed.
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