By Ken McCauley
Farmer, White Cloud, Kansas
Planting is right around the corner on our farm, and it got me thinking about my love of farming, and in particular, how far farming has progressed. I’ve been planting corn and soybeans for 50 years. I planted my first crop in 1964 with my brother on my mother’s farm. I don’t remember seed being as much of a big deal then as it is now, because most seed produced about the same yield. Earning a living on the farm at that age was a real life lesson. Dad wanted us to learn about profit and loss, so we had to pay for all the inputs, including fuel and hauling at harvest. It wasn’t as much of a gift as you might think, but it was a good deal for a kid in high school.
I remember my first corn sale was for $1.10 per bushel, and the yield was about 110 bushels per acre. Not bad, but remember that amount. After harvest, we disked the stalks, then plowed the soil, then disked it again, then harrowed it if we needed to. This was a far cry from what we do today with our no-till system and one trip with the planter.
Fast forward to 1996, when biotechnology seeds came along, combined with the new genetics that were being developed, and my love for good seeds came alive. I have always regarded biotechnology as the “icing on the genetic cake”! In other words, without good genetics you can’t have a good yield.
For example, we had never sprayed for corn borer, so I wasn’t aware of what our losses were before biotech came along. Then, in the late 1990s, we planted seeds with YieldGard Corn Borer protection, which gave the corn built-in protection against the pest. We saw immediate results, as yields went higher because the corn borer no longer fed on our corn stalks. When the “Roundup Ready” system came on the scene, I saw another opportunity that could replace some outdated herbicides and have cleaner fields, along with simplifying the process of growing crops. The system probably helped us to be able to expand our farm.
As we used more biotech seeds, coupled with better and better genetics, our yields have risen almost every year–and with fewer chemicals, not more. As a yield comparison to when I started in the 1960s, our yields have gone as high as 250 bushels per acre (for an average yield of 190 bushels per acre) with less erosion, less fuel, less machinery trips, less wear and tear on my body and more profitability.
Many people comment about the size of farms and blame seed companies and biotechnology. I would disagree and say that “size does matter,” and this has been happening before biotech seeds. I would call it progress–farmers are very good at spotting an opportunity. We have had many opportunities since I began farming, and I am proud to say I have taken advantage of many of them. Some have been better than others, and biotechnology is one I am very thankful for.
I have had the opportunity to get to know many of the people responsible for biotech seeds. The seed companies have had good guidance from growers and their farmer organizations, and it makes me feel proud to say they have listened to suggestions.
So my love of farming, good genetics and biotech seeds will continue, and I will say agriculture will continue to prosper because of them.