Say the acronym ‘GMO’ (Genetically Modified Organism) to certain individuals and they become unglued. It crosses the ideological spectrum – I know both liberals, and conservatives that oppose GMO’s. There’s the flip side too. I know people who feel they are the greatest gift science has ever given the world.
Regardless of your position on GMO, it doesn’t take long to find out that we’ve been eating GMO based products for nearly 20 years.
A brief history. GMO’s were borne the day a Russian scientist was able to isolate DNA back in 1935. Forty years later a Grad student at Stanford developed Recombinant DNA which led to advances in plant science. The first GMO patent was issued in 1980 followed by a Supreme Court case which heard arguments on whether to allow a patent on a living organism. The supreme court ruled in favor of allowing the patent and the first GMO vegetable, a tomato, hit grocery stores in 1994. Since that first vegetable hit the stores, virtually every commercially grown crop is related to GMO’s in some way.
I’m not going to argue for or against GMO’s in the food industry. It is as emotional a topic as global warming and abortion. What I’d like to discuss is their use for Food plots.
How are GMO’s used by Food Plotters?
Lots of food plot guys use GMO’s. Roundup Ready corn & soybeans have been around a long time. And deer have been eating them for close to 20 years across Ag fields coast to coast.
Let’s first clear up the differences between spraying food plots and using GMO’s since the two get confused. The simple act of spraying Glyphosate (Roundup) to clear a field, by itself, has nothing to do with GMO’s. Same goes for spraying selective herbicides for broadleaf weeds or grass. I spray 2-4DB on my non-GMO clover and alfalfa every year. So let’s make sure we understand that herbicides are not a GMO.
One way to tell if you are buying - or using GMO seeds is if your bag of seeds contains this label. Sometimes it is on the tag, and sometimes it is placed right on the bag.
Using GMO’s in food plots is entirely about planting a specific, genetically modified crops. The confusion comes from the fact that most GMO products are designed so you can spray herbicide right onto the growing plant. The herbicide kills the weeds - not the plant. The genetic modification is that the plant’s DNA is rendered impervious to the specific herbicide. There are other GMO products that increase size, disease resistance, or other traits, but the overwhelming objective for Food Plotters is for weed control.
Back to the seeds. In order to use GMO’s for food plots you have to specifically purchase genetically modified seed products. The most common are “Roundup-Ready” (RR) products such as RR-Soybeans, RR-Corn, RR-Sugar Beets, and RR-Alfalfa. Since the GMO is a patented seed subject to a use agreement, there are restrictions on their use. Many GMO’s are not yet available to Food Plotters. This includes RR-Alfalfa, RR-Beets, and others. Most GMO corn and soybean products are acceptable for plots by the seed companies holding the patents. Because these are licensed, patented products the cost for RR-Seeds is dramatically higher than their non-GMO counterpart.
Reality of GMO products
One thing is perfectly clear, if you research GMO’s there’s a lot of misinformation (fear-mongering) at play. It’s hard to separate the facts from distortions. Like global warming, there’s a lot of emotion involved and that distorts objectivity. So I’m going to stick to the simple fact that there is no credible evidence that deer are harmed by GMO’s – or that people eating deer (which have fed on GMO products) are harmed as a bi-product of consuming that venison.
Now, I will freely admit that we simply do not know if there are any long-term effects to deer eating GMO products. That is the basis for the argument put forward by the opposition. It’s a valid concern. We are definitely fooling around with nature and there could be unintended consequences to that. Just like reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone, or bringing in an Asian beetle to control one pest only to find out the beetle became a bigger problem. There are also obvious benefits to GMO’s that are routinely left out of the arguments made by the opposition. GMO’s created to resist pests have dramatically reduced the use of insecticide. Seeds engineered to grow in drought stricken parts of the world are now growing in previously barren soils locally – feeding the poor. And some GMO’s can even grow in denser locations – using less land than previously required.
Are GMO’s necessary for Food Plots?
Probably not. Deer will still find forage between the weeds. You can say the same thing about farming however while maximizing yield is important to a food plotter, it is critically important to a farmer who needs to maximize his yield/acre in order to stay in business and compete. The reality is that virtually every farmer is taking advantage of GMO crops today. And in the past five years, many food plot growers are doing the same.
Here is an excellent example of crops with and without weed control - and it occurred entirely by accident when we missed spraying this small portion of field. The four rows we missed will soon be engulfed by smart weed, Dock, Lambsquarter, and Mustard. the rows on the left were treated with one application of Glyphosate directly over the plants. For a dramatic view of weed control, check out the same field shot with a time-lapse Moultrie Gen2 camera. Pay attention to the date we sprayed and then you will see explosive growth after the weed competition has vanished.
There is little argument that using GMO products are effective. Invasive weeds compete with your Food Plot for nutrients and water. The results of a weed-free field are dramatic compared to a field where no weed control is present. Having done both (GMO and non-GMO crops), I experience less than half the yield where I use conventional seeds. In fact, some of those crops where I cannot control invasive weeds have resulted in plots which are choked out and die.
Nutrition vs. the Unknown?
My property is located in an area that can see 300” of snow in one winter. To many food plot guys, nutrition is about maximum antler size. To us, it can mean the difference between a 10% local winter loss and a 40% winter loss. Starvation due to harsh winters is a very real consideration for us. For that reason, I like to use some GMO products for some of my deer plots. For me, getting 4 tons per acre vs 1 ton can be important for our deer’s survival. But ultimately the decision to use them is entirely up to you.
Here is the final result of our mature GMO soybean field after we took the fence down. It was entirely weed-free and nearly 4' tall.
Three weeks later the deer were hammering both the leaves and the pods.