GMO techniques for farming are helping and hurting farmers.
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GMO techniques for farming are helping and hurting farmers.

Date: March 20, 2012
By: Paige Hornor
State Capitol Bureau

Missouri organic farmers are complaining about Monsanto's trespass of seeds.
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Wrap: Randel Agrella grows organic seeds at Abundant Acres in Hartville.

He says the genetically modified crops might get a higher yield, but he prefers to grow organically.

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Description: "Organic is important to me because I happen to believe that there probably are a lot of unknown or unpublicized risks that are associated with that and of course there are concerns about risks to the environment, upsetting population balances of soil microbes."

Agrella says he doesn't face any challenges competing with Monsanto because his seeds are marketed to farmers with different goals, to grow organically.

But according to statistics from the National Corn Growers Association and Monsanto, most farmers use biotechnology and buy their seeds from the St. Louis-based company Monsanto.

Monsanto's seeds are genetically modified, which means their D-N-A has been altered to resist certain pesticides.

According to a report by Missouri Corn Growers Association, approximately 88 percent of farmers grow crops that are biologically engineered.

Sometimes trespass occurs. This happens when pollen from the genetically modified seeds is carried through the air and contaminates an organic farmer's crops.

According to National Corn Growers Association and U.S. Grains Council, farmers who choose to use biotechnology produce yields of an additional 8 to 13 dollars per acre.

Monsanto Corporate Communications Affairs Manager Sara Miller says farmers are choosing technology because of the economic benefits.

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Description: "Some of the benefits of biotechnology crops include increased yields and lower production costs as well as an increase in the adoption of soil tillage practices and that reduces soil erosion."

Organic farmers opt out of using bio-technology. Agrella says he has been effected by the trespass of Monsanto seeds. 


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Description: "When we started testing for GMO content, we found that, actually, a lot of organically produced corn did carry GMO contamination."

This is a problem many other farmers are facing. Corn seed can easily travel miles through the air and land on an organic farm. 

If the genetically modified seeds cross-pollinate with organic crops, the farmer's crop is essentially unsellable in an organic market.

Jere Gettle grows seeds at Baker Creek Heirlooms in Mansfield. He's faced challenges keeping his crops organic too.

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Description: "Our biggest challenge right now is just keeping old corn varieties free from contamination, that's our biggest challenge."

But some farmers are facing bigger challenges than that, they are facing lawsuits.

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Description: "If we are in possession of their trans-genetic technology, and we didn't pay royalties on it and for that reason, we could be subject to a patent infringement lawsuit."

Jim Gerritsen is an organic seed grower in Maine who filed the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association lawsuit against Monsanto.

Both Agrella and Gettle are also plaintiffs in this case. They say they want more protection for organic farmers.

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Description: It's very difficult for a farmer to prove they are innocent. It's almost impossible and so that's why we joined. We want to...we feel farmers should have the right to farm without unnecessary lawsuits."

Gettle says the lawsuits can costs millions of dollars, which most farmers cannot afford.

Monsanto Corporate Communications Affairs Manager Sara Miller says all forms of agriculture play a different role and that Monsanto is confident that both biotech and organic crop production can effectively coexist.

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Description: "It has never been nor will be Monsanto's policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patent seed or traits are present in a farmers field as a result of inadvertent means."

The OSGATA case was dismissed by New York federal District Judge Naomi Buchwald at the end of February.

Judge Buchwald found the plantiffs' allegations to be unsubstantiated given that not one single plaintiff claims to have been threatened and Monsanto's patent enforcement was not as strict as the plaintiffs had claimed.

Gerritsen says the 83 plaintiffs have until March 28th to appeal the case. They are currently making their decisions on this matter.

The debate continues outside of the United States. The European Union does not allow the import of genetically modified products as they fear environmental and health risks. The E.U. is currently trying to reach a compromise to allow companies to cultivate a biologically engineered crop in certain countries.

Reporting from the state Capitol, I'm Paige Hornor.