Why did I tour Monsanto?
I am a member of the USFRA Digital Voices Council. The council is a small, mixed group of registered dieticians and people representing agriculture. Our newly formed group met in St. Louis for an Immersion session. During our Immersion session, we met and learned a bit about each other and learned about USFRA (United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance) and . . .
We toured Monsanto!
Traveling to the Chesterfield Monsanto office, we soon realized that our tour would take us to their research facility.
After arriving at Monsanto we were told we could take any pictures or videos that we wanted. And that shocked me. Most companies I have toured do not allow any pictures taken and when you think about the public’s perception of Monsanto, I thought for sure we would not be allowed to take any pictures.
But . . . I was wrong. So I took pictures. Lots of pictures.
This facility employs about 1700 employees.
We visited a number of different areas of the facility and I will highlight a few of those areas.
First, I must say that our tour guide was phenomenal. She is a scientist but her ability to communicate science to non-science people was unbelievable. After the tour, I told her agriculture needed to clone her 900,000 times!
I really loved her explanation of GMO technology. Here is a video of her explaining it.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this research facility is the biotechnology research or more specifically, GMO (genetically modified organisms) research. On our farm, we choose to use GMOs because they work best for us. This does not mean it is the right choice for everyone, but it is for us.
The pictured display case below contains three soybeans, two of which are non-GMO and one which is GMO . . . and some insects. It’s fairly easy to see which plants are GMO and non-GMO. Notice the party the insects are having on the non-GMO soybean plants.
And here is how our tour guide explained the GMO soybeans.
So let’s talk a bit about biotechnology or GMOs. Why do we need them? Well, part of the answer is to feed a growing and hungry world. In 2011, the world population hit 7 billion people. The world population by 2050 is projected to hit 9 billion people. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. And thankfully, Monsanto along with many other biotech companies are stepping up to the plate and helping agriculture feed these mouths. Biotechnology is just one tool in the toolbox to feed our growing population.
We can grow more food with fewer pesticides, which makes us all winners.
There were examples of traditional cross-breeding research in their greenhouse. Because corn plants contain both male and female parts, they put these paper bags on the corn plants so they wouldn’t breed. Think of it as a corn “condom.”
Monsanto also uses a seed chipper. And being the non-science person I am, I had not heard about that technology. Basically a seed chipper punches a small chip out of a seed, which is used to extract DNA. Using this method allows scientists to know exactly what the DNA (for research) is immediately instead of waiting for the plant to grow to extract the DNA from plant tissues. Monsanto estimates the seed chipper takes about two years off the process by not having to wait for a plant to grow plant tissue. And the seed is able to grow as if no chip was taken out of the seed.
Despite what people think, Monsanto does care about the environment. Monsanto is not killing honey bees! Honey bee health is being affected by varroa mite, weather and disease. Again, Monsanto has stepped up to the plate and is doing research on honey bee health and providing solutions to improve their health.
The tour was also a good reminder how our foods have changed over many years. Take note of the chart below. Imagine cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts and kohlrabi all originating from the yellow mustard plant.
I, as a farmer, appreciate the research coming from Monsanto. We are not required to plant Monsanto seed, but we want to plant biotechnology seeds because of the benefits of the technology. Biotechnology has greatly improved our efficiencies and productivity as farmers and all with being more environmentally friendly.
Here is their wall lined with patents as a result of their research.
If you could ask Monsanto any question, what would it be?
Other reads on GMOs: