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Small Vermont dairy farm stands up for biotechnology

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Genetic engineering can help all farmers improve their bottom lines, no matter what size the operation.

Passersby of the Farm at Wheeler Mountain in northeast Vermont might think Joanna and Adam Lidback’s small dairy is all-organic, with its cows grazing quietly on pastures on the rolling green hills. But looks can be deceiving. Lidback and her husband are staunch advocates of biotechnology and use it extensively on their farm.

The Lidbacks say without biotechnology, their ability to succeed as first generation dairy farmers would be difficult. Biotechnology keeps their feed costs low compared to organic or non-GMO feed and promotes efficiency and sustainability.

At a recent hearing of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, Joanna spoke about a threat to the dairy’s profitability – irrational consumer fear about biotechnology.

“We saw this with the controversy over the use of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), a technology that has no adverse effects on human health,” she said. “Consumers, not understanding the science and being driven by fear stirred up by anti-agriculture activists, rejected this technology for no sound reason.

“While many said that rBST was an example of the evils of  ‘big agriculture,’ the truth is that many small dairy farms used rBST as a way to improve and grow their businesses, better utilizing existing resources and without needing more capital expenditures. Now, driven by the marketplace, our cooperative generally must restrict its members from using rBST.”

The effectiveness of anti-ag rhetoric has spurred Lidback to do more to educate consumers about biotechnology in agriculture. She keeps an active presence on social media and through her blog, farmlifelove.com. She also uses more traditional methods of communications via newspapers, church meetings and everyday conversation.

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“If I have one person or ten people reach out to me for a question or appreciating my hands-on and practical perspective from the farm, then I have succeeded. We know more now than we ever have about growing food or caring for animals, and this helps us to achieve a level of productivity that previous generations of farmers would envy.”

As a mother of two boys, aged three and 16 months, Lidback is pragmatic as a consumer too, preferring not to purchase organic or non-GMO food. “I generally do not believe in paying the higher premium for these foods because they provide no added nutritional or other health benefits. With a growing family and a growing farm business, we have lots of other places to spend our hard-earned money.”

Agriculture could use more farmer advocates like Lidback, whose passion and experience are needed to counterbalance misinformation about biotechnology, while reminding Americans that small family farms need it too.

 

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