BETTER FOOD, FEED AND FABRIC
DOES CROP IMPROVEMENT MEAN GMOS?
It depends on what you mean by GMO. Essentially all modern crops are genetically modified organisms; none of them would exist “naturally” without the intervention of some sort of agricultural technology. That includes crops that can be certified organic, like the low-acid Maui Gold pineapple we love to eat, Maui sugarcane, and all modern corn varieties.
Genetic changes have helped farmers improve crops in Hawaii for centuries. Today’s seed companies continue that tradition by breeding crops for traits that help farmers achieve their goals, such as drought tolerance, increased yield, pest management or disease resistance. We do that using plant breeding science to produce both conventional and biotech parent seed lines.
Recent scare tactics have sought to separate and stigmatize certain genetically modified organisms, specifically transgenically modified crops, as GMOs. Transgenic modification is just the latest technique at our disposal for improving crops. It also happens to be the most accurate. Traditional breeding can transfer untold numbers of genes, whose effects are not all known; transgenic modification transfers only a few or just one precisely because we’ve studied what its effect will be.
So crop improvement is genetically modifying organisms through farming, whether by the millennia-old practice of breeding or the decades-old practice of transgenic modification. The ultimate goal is as ever, to make better crops for food, feed and fabric.
GROWING SEEDS IN HAWAII
Hawaii’s seed companies are precisely that: producers of seeds for improved crops that will be grown around the world.
- We produce seed corn, soybean, sunflower, wheat and cottonseed varieties.
- We grow and harvest on approximately 4,000 of our 8,000 acres, keeping important ag lands in agricultural use.
- Seed corn makes up 92 to 97 percent of the seed industry’s value.
None of the seed crops grown in Hawaii are sold commercially. Hawaii’s seed industry is driven primarily by worldwide demand for hybrid seed corn and ships 6.8 million pounds of seed corn annually to South and North America for expanded planting or creating hybrid seeds for sale in the next year.
Hawaii’s climate allows for additional growing seasons and faster seed development. Combined with a stable US regulatory regime, this competitive advantage allowed Hawaii’s seed industry to become the fastest growing agricultural activity in the state over the last 50 years. It is now an integral part of the greater ag sector, maintaining important infrastructure and providing economies of scale that benefit other farmers.
Today HCIA member companies are part of the fabric of their communities. They contribute to the economic diversity of the islands by providing living wage jobs in rural communities, keeping important agricultural lands in agricultural use, and serving as responsible stewards of Hawaii’s natural resources. Their employees are farmers, neighbors, and parents who care about the future of Hawaii and the health and safety of their communities.
MODERN FARMING METHODS
Hawaii’s seed companies are at the forefront of modern farming. We have to be if we want to produce better seeds and improved crops. While we still plant, water, and harvest seeds, everything we do is informed by the best practices in agriculture today. That means we have a tremendous amount of expertise in biotechnology.
What is biotechnology?
Biotechnology is like any other technology – it seeks to solve problems humans face using advances gained by science, in this case the science of biology. It dates back more than 7000 years, to the first use of enzymes called rennet to make cheese and the first use of yeast to make leavened bread.
According to the Biotechnology Industry Organization, biotechnology now gives us more than 250 health care and vaccine products, many for diseases that are otherwise untreatable. Today biotechnology is allowing researchers to synthesize the ZMAPP vaccine in GMO tobacco that will help us fight Ebola.
How is biotechnology used in agriculture?
Worldwide, more than 13 million farmers use agricultural biotechnology to improve their crops and increase yields; prevent damage from insects, viruses, and fungi; and reduce agricultural impact on the environment. Biotechnology can rescue Florida’s tomato, orange and papaya industries the same way it rescued Hawaiian papaya.
Genetically engineered crops, also called genetically modified organisms (GMOs), refers to crops whose genetic makeup has been altered to give the plant a desirable trait. These traits help reduce or eliminate the use of insecticides and biocides, prevent soil erosion by enabling reduced or no-till farming techniques, and increase food production by improving yields. Genetic engineering also lets scientists produce food that is healthier, more nutritious and better tasting.
Biotech crops are not new. The process improves the genes of plants to make them more useful for humans. Creating new plants through conventional crossbreeding involves the random exchange of thousands of genes. Developing a new plant using biotechnology is a similar process, but much more precise because it involves the addition of only a single or sometimes just a few genes at a time.
In Hawaii, agricultural biotechnology is thriving, contributing to the livelihood of farmers, the health of our environment, and the strength of our economy. By integrating innovative technology with local farming practices, agricultural biotechnology can continue to grow the state’s agricultural sector and preserve the landscapes that define our Islands.