Editor’s Note: Brittany Morris, winner of USB’s 2013 Biotech University reporting contest, attended an international conference on biotechnology and agriculture this summer in Rosario, Argentina. The trip was part of her grand prize for coming in first place in the competition, which USB supports to promote understanding of biotech by tomorrow’s influencers. Brittany studies journalism at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
By Brittany Elena Morris
Santiago del Solar is the seventh generation of farmers in his family from Northern Argentina. Each day he toils alongside his brothers, uncles, cousins and closest friends to produce food for people in their country and abroad.
On two farms, Santiago and his family grow wheat, barley, sunflower, soybeans and corn. In 1994, Santiago made the decision to begin using genetically modified soybean and corn seed with traits that fend off weeds and pests, and he hasn't looked back.
"(Biotechnology) changed my life because it was much easier,” he said recently at the Otra Tierra agricultural conference in Rosario, Argentina. ”The crops were very good and the income was double. This is sustainable for us all."
While biotechnology has come to play a major role in agriculture, farmers at the conference hosted by Aapresid also share three pillars of agricultural standards that will improve farming in Argentina that Santiago and his family steadfastly adhere to:
1) no-till farming,
2) good agricultural practices, such as crop rotation, and
3) the remembrance of time and the preservation of land for future farmers.
Cesar Belloso, an agronomy engineer at the University of Buenos Aires, shared Santiago's sentiment for the three sustainable tenets and the advantages of genetically modified seeds for farmers in Argentina.
"It's a very important tool to improve our production system," Belloso said of biotechnology. "It improves the yields and reduces the impact on the environment because we use less herbicides and pesticides."
The two, farmer and professional, shared that they are hopeful biotechnology will help them feed the increasing world population. Gathering at Otra Tierra helped Santiago and Belloso create strategies to help them reach out to the thousands of families that eat the crops they work to produce.
"Farmers don't work much outside of their farms, and that's why it's important I am here today," Santiago said. "I learned we have to gather together and explain to other people what we do."
Belloso validated the importance of reaching out to consumers because biotechnology can be a contentious topic in the public sector, he said. "There is some discussion if it is safe or not. But it’s 15 years after the first varieties have been released and we don't have any problem with the product."
Despite the negative attention, the two men look forward to the future.
Santiago quoted the Beatles' "It's Getting Better All the Time" as the inspiration for his farming. "I think that agriculture is getting better all the time. It's a hard job, yes, but every day we have new information and technology to share."