Newsflash: GMO Sugar is NO DIFFERENT Than Conventional Sugar!

Here is a quiz for you all:


Nearly all of the sugar beets planted in the USA have been engineered to be resistant to to certain herbicides.  Anti-GMO proponents continue to promote the theory that somehow modified crop-products are structurally different than conventional crop-products, that somehow the genes from the genetically-modified portion of the plant transfer or move, into the part that we eat.

With sugar, this idea is absolutely false.  Sugar samples from each U.S. sugar beet processing facility were collected and tested by an independent third party, and were identical to sugar produced by conventional beets as well as conventional sugar cane.

Source: John O’Connell, Capital Press, September 30, 2014


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Agribusiness Profile – Collyn Larson

By participating in Leadership Idaho Agriculture, I had the opportunity to meet a group of wonderful people working in a variety of agriculture-related fields, including conservation, research, education, irrigation, and production.  The agricultural industry in the United States employs millions of people, the vast majority of whom are not out actually growing the crops.  We are highlighting an agribusiness professional, to show you just how far-reaching the world of agriculture is!

As a side note – agriculture is facing a deficit of educated professionals, especially in technology, and  research and development.  If you’re deciding on your college education path, or are looking to make a career change, consider agriculture.  Food will never be outdated!

This month, you will meet Collyn Larson, a production research scientist for MONSANTO.  I really enjoyed talking with Collyn about the work that he does, and wish that each of you could have the opportunity to hear all of the interesting things that go on in his lab.  I captured as much as I could to share with you all.

Collyn Larson is a production research scientist with Monsanto, and works in Nampa, Idaho.  He has worked with the company for a total of 8 years, including an internship he did with them during college.

Scientist Collyn Larson showing some carrot seed they were working on.

Scientist Collyn Larson showing some carrot seed he is working on.

Collyn grew up on a farm, and while he wanted to work in the agriculture industry, he also liked the idea of having a steady paycheck.  His college internship in this field helped him to narrow his focus, and gave him a better understanding of what Monsanto is all about.

Collyn went to the University of Idaho, graduating with his B.S. in Biology in 2006.  He went to work for a couple years before going back to the University of Idaho for his Masters in Plant Science, which he received in 2012.

As a production research scientist, Collyn works with the parent plants used to make hybrids.  He works specifically with onions, carrots, sweet corn and garden beans.  His job is to study the parent plants and see if they are cost-effective to grow.   The production research division examines a number of variables, including seed size and weight, production rates, water usage, etc. 70% of Collyn’s time is spent on this side of his job, which also includes being in the field during the spring and summer, making presentations, and working with a lot of statistics.

The other 30% Collyn gets to spend on the really fun stuff – feasibility trials.  In feasibility trials, Collyn and his colleagues get to try new things that might increase production, like changing up the planting spacing, row spacing, trying new fertilizers, and more.  If a plant responds to a new technique, the data is sent along to the crop production division, where the plants are tested on a larger scale.  If the production division finds that those plants are indeed viable and cost-effective, they will move along the pipeline and eventually into farmer’s fields.

Planting parent onions in a test plot

Planting parent onions in a test plot

Collyn’s division receives the new parent plants from the plant breeding division as early on in the process as possible.  Once we have looked at it and compared it to the current crop standard , we give our data to the crop specialist so that they can either stop the hybrid from advancing or advance it.  If the hybrid is advanced his division can provide a few years’ worth of data to help the production team better manage the crop.

Collyn is proud to be working for Monsanto.  When I asked him to tell me what the company does in one sentence, he responded “We provide high quality seed to the world.”

For example, the Monsanto facility in Nampa is one of the only providers of temperate sweet corn seed in the entire world.  It is shipped to farmers in countries on every continent.  And no, it’s not all GMO.

And the onion seed almost ready for harvest!

And the onion seed almost ready for harvest!

Collyn and I talked about the importance of the work he does.  He says, “What we do is really important.  The field is interesting and always changing.  Innovation is necessary in order to keep up with the increasing demand for plants that will produce more high-quality food.”

Collyn and his team are doing interesting new things like studying different seed treatments, which are applied to seeds before they go in the ground.  Seed treatments protect fragile seeds once they’re in the soil from microbes and frost, and provide nutrients in the crucial germinating stage.  Again, not all seeds (blue corn, for example) with a seed treatment are GMO.  Conventional seeds use treatments as well.

The necessity to reduce inputs like fertilizers and pesticides is also very important, which is why many GMO seeds have been designed.  Recently, Monsanto acquired a company that has developed technology that gives very precise data on the water and nutrients in a farmer’s soil, measuring to the inch.  When this is combined with precision planting, (which allows farmers to determine the amount of fertilizers planted with the seed), it will increase yields and decrease the amount of water and chemicals necessary to raise a good crop.

Collyn with the mini precision planter used to plant test plots.

Collyn with the mini precision planter used to plant test plots.

While Collyn is not in the public sphere very often, he still is affected by the challenges that Monsanto faces in that area.  He feels there is a lack of understanding and resistance to the public truly being open to learning about how GMOs are created and how they work.  The anti-GMO movement is frustrating for him and his co-workers, since many arguments are based on fear and a lack of science-based knowledge.

Another challenge that his industry and company face is the “Big-Ag” label, and the idea that they – Monsanto, do not care about farming.  While Monsanto is a business, not a charity, and has to turn a profit in order to fund continuing research and development, he and his colleagues care very deeply about the work they do, and about farmers and agriculture.  They strive to reduce the cost for farmers by creating products that produce higher yields with reduced inputs.  Reducing the cost for farmers reduces the cost for us all!

It was great to talk with Collyn about his job, and to hear about all the interesting things that his company does.  Please remember, if you have any questions for Collyn, ask and they shall be answered!

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Thought of the Week

Whiskey is for drinkin’, and water is for fightin’.

-Mark Twain

A typical Western water rights conversation Photo Source

A typical Western water rights conversation
Photo Source

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Farmer Update – John Sturtevant

After harvest each fall, our farmers often send us a summary of their year, market information, and thoughts on next year. This update is from Farmer John Sturtevant, of Pasco, WA, and has lots of interesting bits of information. Farmers are definitely multi-taskers – John is a farmer, weatherman, and commodities market analyst all in one!

Here is his letter to Robin:


2014 was a different year hay marketwise than I’ve ever seen.  A number of market forces all kind of came into effect and collided.  The year started with lots of buzz about the drought in California and high hay prices because of that.  A lot of speculation was done by hay buyers on first cutting, that prices would remain high throughout the year.  Prices softened for second cutting, then the wheels sort of came off the market for third cutting with China’s discovery of GMO hay being exported from the U.S.

The export market came to a halt and really hasn’t quite recovered.  We found out through our export hay buyer that there is a lot of GMO contaminated hay seed, and that this is a problem.  Luckily none of our hay tested positive for GMO traits. This, combined with the largest corn crop ever and subsequent low corn prices and we had a hay market that went from bright to questionable.

We had pretty good luck in putting our hay up this year with some good quality and were able to sell it all.  Our first and fourth cuttings were especially nice, probably some of the nicest hay we ever put up.

I’m not sure what the hay market will be like next year.  It is still forecast to be a drought next year in California, but there appears to be plenty of feed for cows with cheap corn and small herd sizes.  Not sure how the GMO deal will figure out and I think with low wheat prices a lot of guys around me planted September alfalfa rather than wheat.  Acres should be up next year driving the supply of hay up and pressuring prices down.

Wheat -there’s too much of it worldwide.  I read an article last spring that an analyst wrote, which stated he thought wheat and corn would be in a 3 year downturn as a result of ample supply of each.  Barring a disaster somewhere I think he could be right as everybody around me must think this also – few have planted winter wheat.  Many opted for late planted alfalfa or timothy.  Hard Red Wheat will probably remain in the $6.50 to $7.50 (per bushel) range next year, which is OK.

Dry beans.  The Midwest put up a lot of pinto beans this year and I wonder if there will be a lot of carryover into next year keeping prices low.

Currently Pintos are at $30 (per cwt or hundredweight) here, and $24 in the Midwest.  This is a little above breakeven.  On a bright note my Red beans are at $38,  and along with Kidneys are the highest priced bean.  I guess there is a shortage of kidneys and dealers are substituting reds in some cases.  Last year there was a shortage of Navys.

The weather.  This has been the warmest fall I can ever remember.  We have yet, as of November 6th to have a frost yet.  I believe the lowest temperature we have had is 38*.  The orchard guys who have apples still to harvest like this, yet are concerned about the trees not going dormant and having a sudden damaging cold spell.  The one forecast I heard was that the Northwest was supposed to have a mild winter.  A mild winter usually means an early start to first cutting and more bugs and disease to deal with.

Hope all is well with you,



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Fun Fact Friday – Turkeys!

Since we’re getting closer to Thanksgiving, the holy grail for turkeys (albeit unknowingly), I thought I’d share a fun article of interesting turkey facts. Now you’ll know exactly how to start some stimulating conversation around the dinner table!

The two turkeys we raised this year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, on their one-way car ride

The two turkeys we raised this year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, on their one-way car ride

1 ) Turkeys are more than just big chickens–more than 45 million years of evolution separates the two species.

2 ) The wild turkey was hunted nearly to extinction by the early 1900s, when the population reached a low of around 30,000 birds. But restoration programs across North America have brought the numbers up to seven million today.

3 ) There are six subspecies of wild turkey, all native to North America. The pilgrims hunted and ate the eastern wild turkey, M. gallopavo silvestris, which today has a range that covers the eastern half of the United States and extends into Canada. These birds, sometimes called the forest turkey, are the most numerous of all the turkey subspecies, numbering more than five million.

4 ) The Aztecs domesticated another subspecies, M. gallapavo gallopavo, the south Mexican wild turkey, and the Spanish brought those turkeys to Europe. The pilgrims then brought several of these domestic turkeys back to North America.

5 ) Male turkeys are called “gobblers,” after the “gobble” call they make to announce themselves to females (which are called “hens”) and compete with other males. Other turkey sounds include “purrs,” “yelps” and “kee-kees.”

6 ) An adult gobbler weighs 16 to 22 pounds on average, has a beard of modified feathers on his breast that reaches seven inches or more long, and has sharp spurs on his legs for fighting. A hen is smaller, weighing around 8 to 12 pounds, and has no beard or spurs. Both genders have a snood (a dangly appendage on the face), wattle (the red dangly bit under the chin) and only a few feathers on the head.

7 ) Studies have shown that snood length is associated with male turkey health. In addition, a 1997 study in the Journal of Avian Biology found that female turkeys prefer males with long snoods and that snood length can also be used to predict the winner of a competition between two males.

8 ) A turkey’s gender can be determined from its droppings–males produce spiral-shaped poop and females’ poop is shaped like the letter J.

9 ) Turkeys can run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour and fly as fast as 55 miles per hour.

10 ) A group of related male turkeys will band together to court females, though only one member of the group gets to mate.

11 ) When a hen is ready to make little turkeys, she’ll lay about 10 to 12 eggs, one egg per day, over a period of about two weeks. The eggs will incubate for about 28 days before hatching.

12) Baby turkeys, called poults, eat berries, seeds and insects, while adults have a more varied diet that can include acorns and even small reptiles.

13 ) There is one other species of turkey, the ocellated turkey , which can be found on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

14 ) Benjamin Franklin never proposed the turkey as a symbol for America, but he did once praise it as being “a much more respectable bird” than the bald eagle.

Originally posted November 23, 2011 at

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New GMO Potato Introduced!

Last week, a new GMO potato hit the market. The potato variety, named Innate, was developed by the J.R. Simplot company of Idaho. The potato was developed over a decade of research, and has some great qualities that both farmers and consumers desire in their potato.

First, this new potato was modified to bruise less easily. A bruised potato is a potato which has less value and is sometimes unusable.  A higher tolerance to getting jostled around will improve yields for farmers and for the companies that buy potatoes.

Second, this new potato has been modified to not brown after being cut. While this is only to improve the appearance of potato products, since browning has no effect on the quality, it is an improvement for potato product processors.

Third, and most important, the new Innate potato produces much lower amounts (up to 75% less) of acrylamide, a substance that may have ties to cancer, when the the potato is fried.

The Innate potato and a regular potato after 10 hours. Photo: Simplot

The Innate potato and a regular potato after 10 hours. Photo: Simplot

The Innate potato with these three important characteristics, was developed by a newer GMO technology, called RNA interference. Using this technique, genes from other potatoes were used. No genes from other plants or organisms were used to develop the Innate potato. So, it’s like an organ transplant in humans.

Pretty cool!

A link to Simplot’s website with more information about the potato:

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Thought of the Week

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.

Photo Source

Photo Source

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New monthly post – coming soon!

Just wanted to let you know about a new monthly post that we’re starting! Each month, we’ll be interviewing an agribusiness professional about their job. The world of agriculture employs hundreds of thousands of people across the United States, and the vast majority work in areas other than production agriculture, such as research, insurance, education, regulation, and more. So, on the 20th of each month, be looking for our agribusiness profile!

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Thought of the Week

Be exacting and thorough in your work.

-Robin W. L.

Precision planting. Photo source

Precision planting. Photo source

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Now That’s a Sack…of Potatoes

We read this interesting little article in the October 10, 2014 issue of The Capital Press, and though you all would find it interesting, as well.

BiologiQ, a wonderful research and development company in Idaho Falls, ID, has developed a process to make plastic from plant starch, including potato starch. The company takes the waste water from potato processing, removes the starch, and forms it into Eco Starch Resin pellets that can be blended with traditional petroleum-based pellets to make plastic.

Eco Starch Resin Pellets Photo Source

Eco Starch Resin Pellets
Photo Source

The starch pellets  support microbes that break down plastics, making plastic bags made with Eco Starch Resin pellets biodegradable within one to three years. The process that BiologiQ has developed is much less expensive than other methods of plant starch processing for plastics. The cost is roughly the same as making conventional plastics.

Currently the bags are being marketed through Wada Farms, a potato packaging facility in Eastern Idaho. They use the bags themselves for their Russet potatoes. They also plan to offer Tater Made sacks to customers and retailers around the nation.

BiologiQ has other biodegradable products in the works for agricultural uses. One project their scientists are working on is plastic mulch film that could be tilled into the soil to decompose, rather than being removed and thrown away. Their current formulation breaks down too quickly for field use,but I’m sure they’ll figure it out soon!

BiologiQ has a plant in Blackfoot and their main office in Idaho Falls. They currently employ 15 staff members, but their goals for the future include expanding to a second plant in Idaho Falls and up to 100 workers in their first plant.

As demand for sustainable, biodegradable products increases in both the retail and commercial sectors, companies like BiologiQ will be in high demand to develop products that turn waste into something useful.

You can read more about the company at BiologiQ’s website by clicking here.

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