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.”

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  • Bert Goodrich

    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.”

  • Margaret Westfall

    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.

  • C.C.

    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.

  • Athena BWolf

    Monsanto On Trial For Roundup Cancer
    11 Mar 2017 Posted by James Corbett
    “For once in your life, listen to me and don’t play your political conniving games with the science to favor the registrants. For once do the right thing and don’t make decisions based on how it affects your bonus.”
    These words, penned in 2013 by former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientist Marion Copley, have an urgency seldom found in the dry correspondence that is typically passed between scientists. But this was no ordinary memo; it was an appeal, a desperate plea for action. And it was written on her death bed (from cancer). The letter is addressed to Jess Rowland, at that time the head of the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC). It begins by noting 14 separate effects of glyphosate (a herbicide marketed by Monsanto under the name “Roundup”) known to the EPA.
    As Copley explains in the letter, “any one of these mechanisms alone listed can cause tumors, but glyphosate causes all of them simultaneously.” She argues that the CARC should change its assessment of glyphosate from a “possible cause of cancer” to the more definitive “probable human carcinogen.” And she excoriates Rowland himself, noting that his “trivial MS degree from 1971 Nebraska is far outdated” and that as a result CARC science is 10 years behind the literature. She charges Rowland and his colleague, Anna Lowit, with intimidating staff and changing reports to favor industry interests.
    Copley’s letter is just one of the many dramatic pieces of evidence submitted as part of a new filing in a class action lawsuit against Monsanto that is currently before the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California. The lawsuit alleges that Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer (now officially the most-used agricultural chemical of all time!) is responsible for the non-Hodgkin lymphoma of thousands of people across the country.

  • Athena BWolf

    This article is incredibly one-sided, ill-informed and promotes the continued endangerment of our land, water and health!
    There are DOZENS of credible scientific studies proving that this poison causes cancer. New Mexico Compass is either irresponsible, or has been bought out, to share this one-sided view. Here’s another study on this poison that is killing us.

    Published 2014 in the International Journal of Toxicology, the study “Glyphosate Commercial Formulation Causes Cytotoxicity, Oxidative Effects, and Apoptosis on Human Cells: Differences With its Active Ingredient,” proposes what most of us have already surmised:
    Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide du jour – RoundUp – is utterly killing us. What’s more – it kills us in much smaller servings than the Agriculture industry is dishing out in its common GMO and pesticide spraying practices, and it is made stronger by the additional chemicals used in the RoundUp formula.
    “Aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), and a glyphosate formulation (G formulation) were examined in HepG2 cell line, at dilution levels far below agricultural recommendations” and they are causing toxic effects on the human genome. It is the adjuvants in RoundUp working together with the glyphosate which really causes the problem.
    “The glyphosate formulation studied also triggered two ‘death proteins’ in human cells known as caspase 3/7, inducing pathways that activate programmed cell death (apoptosis), a clear sign of significant toxicity.”

  • Athena BWolf

    Are you promoting brain tumors in children!?

    Monsanto’s Glyphosate-Containing Herbicide Linked To Brain Cancer In Children
    April 30, 2016
    It’s past time for glyphosate be banned – for good.
    After the World Health Organization declared glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, to be “probably carcinogenic,” the biotech company quickly countered the claim, saying the research is biased and inaccurate.
    And of course, it would, for RoundUp is its best-selling weed killer. Who cares if it causes cancer, right?
    Well, scientists from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry havepublished a study damning the effects of glyphosate, and there is no way the corrupt company can refute this evidence.
    In the study, a correlation between parental exposure to the toxic herbicide Roundup and an increased chance of offspring developing brain cancer was found. Specifically, parents exposed to the toxic concoction up to two years before giving birth are more likely to see their offspring develop brain cancer. That’s not all – the chances double if that’s the case.
    As Natural Society shares, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services specializing in illnesses caused by toxic substances.
    These results from the US Atlantic Coast Childhood Brain Cancer Study have been published and compared against control groups in multiple states.
    It was concluded that if either parent had been exposed to Roundup during the two years before the child’s birth, the chances of the child developing cancer were increased. That means it’s not just exposure to the mother that matters, as might easily be assumed since indications of breast milk contamination recently made news.