KUNC     Tri States Public Radio

         

DuPont Pioneer is the second-largest seed company in the world. (File: Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media)
DuPont Pioneer is the second-largest seed company in the world. (File: Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media)

Science’s hottest new tool looks like it will be coming soon to the Corn Belt.

Iowa’s DuPont Pioneer, the second-largest seed company in the world, announced this week that it plans to sell a new form of corn created with CRISPR-Cas plant breeding technology, the much-ballyhooed gene-editing tool. While the product  still has to undergo field tests and further regulatory review, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says unlike other plants whose genomes have been altered with older technology, DuPont Pioneer’s new variety is not required to undergo review under plant protection protocols.

The company says its new hybrid variety of waxy corn, a corn that contains high levels of starch and is used in both processed food and industrial products, is expected to be available to farmers within five years. Waxy corn is grown on hundreds of thousands of acres, but as FERN’s Chuck Abbott notes, it makes up just a fraction of U.S. corn plantings, which typically exceed 90 million acres.

Demand is growing for GMO-free labels on food products, according to the Non-GMO Project, one of the principle suppliers of the label. (File: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)
Demand is growing for GMO-free labels on food products, according to the Non-GMO Project, one of the principle suppliers of the label. (File: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)

There’s a heated debate happening right now about GMOs and labels.

Big food companies like General Mills, Mars and Kellogg’s say they plan to put labels on their products that tell consumers whether or not the food contains ingredients derived from genetically engineered plants.

So what’s the big deal? What are GMO labels, and what do they tell you? Here are three things you should know.

Despite low prices, the Agriculture Department expects farmers to plant near-record-levels of corn. (File: Kathleen Masterson/Harvest Public Media)
Despite low prices, the Agriculture Department expects farmers to plant near-record-levels of corn. (File: Kathleen Masterson/Harvest Public Media)

Midwest farmers are expected to plant a huge corn crop this year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts farmers will plant nearly 94 million acres of corn this season. That’s up 6 percent from last year’s planted acreage and would be the third-highest planted acreage in the U.S. since the 1940s.

Prices for staples like corn and soybeans have been sliding in recent years thanks, in part, to oversupply. Another gigantic harvest of the Midwest’s most important crop could spell further down times for the farm economy.  The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City expects farm income to be down, according to a report by the bank’s Nathan Kauffman.

“The USDA projects real net farm income to be slightly less than a year ago; that projection would mark the second-lowest farm income total in more than 30 years,” Kauffman wrote in the report.

Many Midwest farmers are stuck in a bind.

Pages