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The big drift: Researchers working to keep organic crops clean

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By Deb Courson Smith

Pollen goes where the wind blows – and for organic producers in Montana, pollen from genetically modified crops is an ill wind.

Big Sky Country is a top producer of organics which easily can be contaminated every time the wind shifts, especially when planted near genetically modified crops.

A coalition of nonprofits, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several seed companies are breeding new types of corn with the hope that it will not cross-pollinate with the genetically modified corn. It may also be successful for other crops, such as wheat.

Walter Goldstein, a research program director at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, describes the problem.

“Being at the mercy of the wind, in terms of being able to produce a crop, it’s not a very good situation.”

The research is also aimed at trying to make the corn more nutritious, Goldstein says, both for humans and as a livestock feed. He notes that the pollination issue has made it hard for organic corn farmers to make a living, especially in states with large plantings of genetically modified corn.

“Pollen does escape, and it does pollinate the corn of neighboring farmers who don’t want to grow transgenic corn.”

A solution needs to be found, says Goldstein, as more acreage across the nation is devoted to the altered crops and as seed companies are continuing to consolidate, leaving farmers with few supplier choices.

Megan Paulson is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Outlaw Partners.

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