Food / News

Southern New Mexico Farmer Talks GMOs

Photo Credit: James Jordan via Compfight cc

By Elise Kaplan

— RJF Farms has been in the Franzoy family for four generations, and in that time, a lot has changed. The farm, with property in both Hatch and Las Cruces, N.M., grows between 800 and 1,200 acres of pecans, onions, chile, corn, hay, wheat and cotton. When genetically modified seeds began hitting the market in the early 2000s, Ronnie Franzoy jumped at the chance to try something new to increase his profit. This year, he says, about one-third of the crops he planted come from genetically modified seeds.

Over the last decade, Franzoy has watched his annual yield increase in viability and size as genetic technology improves. Most of his crops are sold for human consumption, but the only genetically engineered seeds he uses are herbicide-resistant cotton and feed corn that was bred to deter armyworms. Branded “Roundup Ready,” these plants have been genetically altered so they won’t die when sprayed with the chemical.

“At first, the Roundup Ready cotton wouldn’t yield near as much as the other cotton,” he says. “But now, it yields more than the other seed we used to plant. It’s the same with the corn seed: They’ve enhanced it so that’s really growing well, too.”

Genetically modified seeds and their most prominent producer, Monsanto, are at the crux of this controversy. Activists cite concerns for the environment, animals and humans, saying there’s still too much we don’t know about emerging field. 

From 2008 to 2012, New Mexico State University received $1 million from the state Legislature to develop a genetically engineered chile, creating an outrage among traditionalists. The university is still performing research and has not yet developed a modified chile plant.

In March, Congress passed a provision dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act. It allows farmers to continue planting GMO crops even while legal challenges about their safety are underway, and it grants the U.S. Department of Agriculture the power to override judicial orders to halt growing. The Senate also voted down an amendment in May that would allow states to require the labeling of genetically engineered ingredients on edible products. In protest, citizens around the world held marches demanding the labeling of GMOs.

Franzoy has stayed out of the fuss over Monsanto and says he trusts that enough testing, guidelines and agency oversight ensure the crops are safe for consumption. “I’ve heard the hoopla of protests. People don’t want genetics, and then there’s another group that wants to go totally organic and not use anything,” he says. “But any farmer that’s farming is not going to put things on his plants that hurt his crop.”

Photo by Elise Kaplan—More Compass coverage of the GMO debate: Burqueños March Against MonsantoThe Demise of N.M.’s GMO Labeling Law, Food Activists Plant Grassroots

The debate over genetically modified seeds has polarized farmers and urban dwellers. Franzoy says a lot of the protesters don’t have a real concept of how food is grown and what goes into the production process. “Food that is taken care of and farmed out in the field is a lot better than food where they didn’t use pesticides or other things to clean up, because you actually have more diseases in the plant from the insects that would destroy it,” he says. “If you weren’t raised on a farm, you have no clue of how food is produced. The farmers are the hubs of the community and the stewards of the land. They’re more for conservation and the environment than the people that live in the city.”

For Franzoy the entire issue comes down to economics. With modified seeds, there are fewer factors to worry about. He can spray herbicide directly on plants without killing his crop so he saves money where he used to pay laborers to hoe the fields for weeds. Plus, his annual cotton yield has increased from two barrels an acre in a good year to up to four. “You used to have to hoe cotton for weeds, so you’d have to hoe it twice,” he says. “A labor contractor would bring people in and fill the fields, and they’d actually hoe the cotton. We no longer have to do that.”

While Franzoy has increased his yield and ease of harvest, he recognizes that every other farmer has done the same. He worries that as the seed technology continues to produce plentiful crops the supply will go up—forcing demand, and prices, down.

“Mother Nature usually takes care of it with droughts and stuff like that, but if everyone has a bumper year with no drought and plenty of water with these new seed varieties, we could flood the market in a hurry” he says. “It might get to the point where there’s no profit in growing it.”

For now, however, RJF Farms will stick to what’s working—and that means sticking with Monsanto.

“All I know is what it does for us on the farm, and we’ve seen no trouble on our end,” he says. “Every time you plant a seed that produces more, and that you can spray herbicides over and it’ll kill the weeds, and you don’t have to go up there and hoe it manually, there’s money in your pocket.”

5 thoughts on “Southern New Mexico Farmer Talks GMOs

  1. Pingback: GMO Debates | report like you give a damn

  2. Elise Kaplan’s article “GMO dispute thrives” in this week’s IQ is an example of why the IQ should stick to
    cocktail recipes and ampconcerts previews. The article glances at some of the issues at why there is a “dispute,” but fails to take on the global threat posed by Monsanto’s quest for food supply domination.
    Instead, the majority of the piece touts a southern NM farmer’s relationship with Monsanto-”he trusts that enough testing, guidelines, and agency oversight ensure the crops are safe for consumption.”
    Really? Any science involved in that comment? Any consideration of the Bt-toxin insecticide produced by each kernel of corn he sells to us after buying the seeds mutated by Monsanto? Perhaps Kaplan is
    trying to be “impartial” by including the RFJ Farm’s anecdotal success story. To me, it sounds like another biotech shill. At least I know one farm I won’t be buying anything from—thanks for labeling yourself “GMO Inside.”

  3. The bottom line, unfortunately, for the local farmer and of course for Monsanto, is “money in your pocket.” He trusts the corporation and obviously, so does the U.S. and State government. Well, maybe we needed something to wipe out humans so that over-population does not occur after all. Also sounds like this local farmer is afraid this same process increasing his dollar yield now may, down the road, destroy his life work, i.e., “…we could flood the market in a hurry…It might get to the point where there’s no profit in growing it.” Has he studied the corn situation that occurred with over-growing? There’s corn all over the place and in almost every manufactured American food. They even feed it to cows, ruining their natural stomach process. So it’s in our beef, chicken, gas, cereals, sweet foods, flour, snacks…IT’s in our HAIR! People need to buy heirloom seed and keep it growing on their own or co-op with other gardeners who are doing so before the corporations get a law passed to destroy it. Look at India’s seed situation to get more education.

  4. I think this journalist should interview a few more farmers. Mr. Franzoy states, “If you are not a farmer, …” There are plenty of other farmers with differing opinions, including the ones who have gone into debt making their case against the stranglehold of Monsanto. And how about farmers across the Atlantic pond? Mr. Franzoy could have been asked about all of these other situations. Hopefully he can have his mind opened a bit to the reality of other farmers elsewhere. It’s not just urban folks with little knowledge of what it takes to actually farm who are against GMO’s. It’s the longer picture, and it would be neat if he could try to understand the uproar from other farmers.

    I am glad to hear Mr. Franzoy’s position, too. He seems to run his farms well, and contributes to our state’s well-being in many ways. Thanks for his honorable work.

  5. Much of this article reads like Monsanto propaganda. I guess in an effort to look “impartial,” Elise Kaplan glosses over Monsanto’s threat to the global food supply, and democracy itself, for anecdotal cheerleading—”RJF Farms will stick to what’s working-and that means sticking to Monsanto.”
    I know one farm I won’t be buying anything from: RJF, if only it were labeled as such in the stores.
    This is part of what the “dispute” is about, and why it’s essential to keep pushing for GMO labeling in NM, and all the states.

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