Farm Bureau Tours GMO Fields in Rogue Valley

Jesse Benbow, Syngenta, stands amid rows of GMO Sugar Beets


Research Station Manager, Jesse Benbow, of Syngenta Seeds, Inc., says Genetically Modified seed crops are totally safe.

As most know, there is a major issue dispute over the safety of the products, and a major disagreement on what will happen with continued use of the seeds.

But Benbow is not the only one to vouch for the safety of the seeds.  He recently said those words from between rows of crops planted within one of the small plots within the Rogue Valley.  Opponents disagree.  They often cite an opinion paper that says we will eventually end up with a monoculture and that could spell the end of some crops and adverse health problems from continued use.  Opponents also say that round-up vegetation killer will eventually work its way from the soil into the plants we eat.  Illness of all sorts are being blamed on this contact.

Benbow was recently a part of a tour sponsored by the Jackson County Farm Bureau, which included Jackson County commissioners C. W. Smith and Don Skogland, State Representative Sal Esquavil, reprentatives of Syngenta, as well as seed growers and members of the Board of Directors of the Farm Bureau.  President Ron Bjork of the Farm Bureau said he wanted to “set the record straight” concerning GMO foods and hoped that an on-the-ground tour of some of the seed plots would help folks make that decision.

The tour visited several plots being raised by Syngenta in the Medford, Ashland and Phoenix areas.  They grow sugar beet seeds, not for the market, but for another seed grower in the Willamette Valley, who also raises beets for seeds, but for the commercial market.

In appearance, the sugar beet looks nearly identical to a Chard plant, in fact it is hard to distrintuish between the two.  It is also indistinguishable from non-GMO sugar beets.  The plant starts come from a Syngenta facility in Colorado and are transplanted here in February.  Two specific types of plants are grown in rows side by side.  One is the pollinator, the other is the seed bearing or female plant.  Another row or two of the pollinators are grown on the opposite side as the first, to make certain that pollination is complete.

Each plant produces about 3,000 seeds when mature.  The pollinators and receptors are both plowed under after their work is done.  And the seeds are taken to a cleaner where they are further cleaned and readied to be shipped to the Willamette Valley.  There each of those 3,000 seeds per plant will be planted and nurtured with the hopes that they in turn will produce 3,000 seeds–each.  At that point, they are sold to operations in the Red River Valley in North Dakota and to a lesser extent to Idaho.

When mature, they are processed into sugar to be used in any number of applications, just as is the non-GMO variety.  However, there is little non-GMO beet seed grown anywhere in the world.  The GMO market for sugar beets is 95% of the total sugar beets grown.

Because there has been a move to make Jackson County completely GMO-free, county commissioners had many questions about the products and the cross contamination. Among those questions were the placement of seed plots, cross pollination and the effects of Round-up on the environment and the food produced with round-up ready seed.

Benbow said that his company is sensitive to growers of non-GMO seeds and maintains at least five miles between conventional and GMO plots.  He said that when the gentleman in Ashland complained, his company quit using fields there so as to avoid conflict. However, he maintains that cross contamination is an unlikely event.  He says that p[ollen have a very short life span and even when carried on the wind, the likelihood of that cross contamination would be very rare.  He was asked about sugar beets crossing with regular red beets and the caution there is that the red coloring of garden variety beet is dominant, something to be avoided in sugar beets.

Some 95 percent of the seed crop for sugar beets is GMO stock.  Percentages for corn, soybeans and other crops are similarly high.  Is coexistance of GMO and non-GMO possible?


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