WAPO story on how a few select US farmers are waiting on pins and needles to see how a planting of GMO corn ultimately handles the worst US drought in half a century - one that costs the US economy about $18B just after last year's TX-centric drought cost $8B.
In western Kansas, the corn looks unsalvageable. The landscape is rife with curled brown leaves, an unmistakable sign of severe drought.
Yet beneath those wilted leaves, some of the corn shows promise. The kernels have held up surprisingly well in a few places given this summer’s swelter. At hundreds of sites across the Great Plains, seed companies such as Monsanto and Pioneer are testing a slew of corn varieties engineered to withstand drought. As the harvest approaches, they’re anxious to see the results . . . farmers are more interested than ever in innovations that could make crops more resilient. That includes improved farming practices, better plant-breeding techniques and even — most controversially — genetic engineering . . . “I’ve been surprised so far. The plants are responding well,” said Clay Scott, a Kansas farmer who planted two plots of Monsanto’s genetically engineered DroughtGard Hybrids among his 3,000 acres of corn. The experimental strain, which carries a gene that helps it draw water more gradually from the soil, is slated for wider release in 2013. “The ear size, kernel counts, the ear weights look good,” Scott said. But, he cautioned, “pretty corn doesn’t always result in yield.”
For Scott, who lives in a region prone to dry spells, where irrigation water from the nearby Ogallala Aquifer needs to be conserved, these crops could prove indispensable.
It’s a pitched battle between nature and human ingenuity that will only grow more difficult. Earth’s population has soared past 7 billion. Climate models suggest that drought will become more frequent in North America. Water will become increasingly precious. Feeding the world will require wringing as much food as possible from every last drop of water.
It’s far from assured that human ingenuity will win out.
Human greed will win out. US farmers and the US economy will want that income in order to exploit the wider human greed for better and longer lives through improved nutrient and caloric intake.
Yes, as the story points out, GMOs are only part of the equation. There are plenty of tactics that improve yields and make crops more resistant to drought - but water is water, and climate change is undeniably here (to all but those who abandon facts for faith).
In the future, GMOs will constitute a clear margin between life and death.