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Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network. Learn more here.

Acres of GMO Corn Nearly Doubled in a Decade

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

More than 90 percent of U.S. field corn is genetically modified, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Genetically modified seeds have been embedded with a gene—usually from a bacteria—that protects the corn from pests or herbicides. And the percentage of  genetically modified seed within the U.S. corn crop nearly doubled over the past 10 years, from less than half of the total planted corn acres in 2004 to 93 percent this year, up from 90 percent last year.

Soybeans have a slightly higher figure, at 94 percent containing a genetic modification, but those seeds have been available longer. In 2004, already 85 percent of soybeans contained an engineered trait.

Iowa State University extension agronomist Mark Johnson says the leap in corn adoption is partly thanks to the success of the first genetically modified corn seed, which fought off a bug called the European corn borer.

“The first one was very, very, very effective,” Johnson said. “There has never been any resistance found anywhere. And so that made the adoption of the other ones so much more rapid.”

Johnson says subsequent traits for corn rootworm and herbicides haven’t been as successful, leading to resistance in some pests and plants. And, Johnson says, there will always be some farmers who reject genetically modified seed.

“Some people are just philosophically opposed, some people don’t want to spend the money, some people realize it doesn’t make sense some times,” Johnson said. “And, in fact, some seed companies reported that their non-GMO seed sales went up this year.”

That’s a trend Johnson said may continue if the price of corn falls even more than it has already this year.

“If we see corn drop down to $3.25 a bushel,” he said, “people are going to look at those economics a lot harder.”

The more genetic modification goes into the bag—some seeds contain three traits—the more expensive the seed gets. But even if there’s some backing away, Johnson says genetic modification has rid the farmer of two of corn’s worst enemies. And that means GMO corn is likely here to stay.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.