gmo…labeling the harvest

photo 2 (8) - CopyBefore I begin, I want to add a disclaimer to the pictures I’m using. Although this is about GMO foods, I don’t have many pictures of fall harvest (corn & soybeans) so most involve wheat. There is no GMO wheat in our food system.

The 2014 midterm elections are now history. Thank goodness! I am so glad my landline phone is now quiet again and the signs that cluttered up the landscape have been removed…until next time.

What isn’t over is the GMO labeling debate. This, too, gets tiresome to see on my social media. I understand the concern of the public…sort of. I understand that if I were afraid of something, I would want to be sure there were warnings to make me aware of the danger. Signs in the mountains to alert me of the danger of bears, labels on chemicals I have stored under my sink that could cause death if ingested, the signs on the combine that indicate possible loss of limbs or death if you fall into the header while in motion. All of these signs warn me of dangers that are certain.

GMO labeling is not certain. As a matter of fact, according to the research that I’ve seen, most of science has made all effort to make people aware that under the past 35 years of scrupulous testing, there is nothing stating that GMO foods cause health issues. I’ve even read several stories of people who did their darndest (Midwest talk) to sway people away from GMO’s who have now changed their mind due to the science. Labels and signs verify danger. Labeling GMO foods will support the fears of the misinformed. They will also encourage people’s thinking that if there are labels, there must be something to be afraid of. And, from what I understand, there is already food that has labeling in place that can support this claim – it’s called organic.

Trying to convince you that GMO labeling is unnecessary is not the reason for this post. The need to write is to express my opinion about something I read prior to the elections regarding GMO labeling. A statement I recently read on a Facebook debate made me realize people don’t really understand what it will take to put that label on their box of Corn Flakes.


 (These old pictures in the corn field are of my Grandpa and his combines)harvest2-001

The comment was something along the lines of, “how expensive could it be to put a label on food”? Now, I don’t claim to know everything about the process of labeling but what I can tell you is the common sense reality of what it takes to get grain from the field to market. Beyond that, I haven’t a clue.  If GMO labeling becomes a reality, the expense it will take to make this happen WILL be passed along to the consumer. Are you questioning why yet?  In October 2000,  David S. Bullock, Marion Desquilbet and Elisavet I. Nitsi coauthored an article (The Economics of Non-GMO Segregation and Identity Preservation) which can better explain the economics involved with labeling. I can explain the harvest as I see it and live it.

Let me tell you what I see happening in our industry and most of Ag if this happens. The segregation of GMO from Non-GMO products will be based on a tolerance policy put in place by the government. This will mean that a certain percent of GMO product, dust or residue will be allowed for the Non-GMO label. This will require certification. As a custom harvester, I see this as a major issue for our industry. Let me try to explain by beginning with our first farmer customer who raises GMO corn (an example).

The combine will harvest that grain and dump it in the semi to be hauled to the elevator.  Once the grain is delivered to the elevator, the grain probe will check for moisture and any foreign matter.  This probe is used to test each load that crosses the scale.  It will then be dumped into a pit and augured into the holding silo until either a train or another truck hauls it away to the next step in the process. The scenario that I just provided puts that grain in at least seven different locations…combine, truck, probe, pit, auger, silo and train/truck.

img_0476Step 1 – Grain is harvested.

img_1240Step 2 – Grain is unloaded from the combine to the truck which will haul it either to the on-farm storage or elevator.

img_2460On-farm storage or grain bin.

img_0447Step 3 – Hauling the grain to the elevator.

img_2222Waiting in line to approach the scale. The red truck is sitting on the scale weighing his empty truck to calculate how much wheat was hauled to the elevator.

img_2065Step 4 – probing the grain for a sample. The blue mechanism is the probe. This will probe the grain for a sample of what’s inside the box of the truck.

img_2118The probe is hanging over the loaded truck box.

Currently, all grain is dumped into the same pit regardless of what brand of seed was planted. This is called “commingling” – defined by Merriam Webster, “to blend thoroughly into a harmonious whole”.

Ok, so back to our world. If our farmer customer #1 grows GMO corn and our farmer customer #2 has Non-GMO soybeans (or corn) that needs harvested, there will be cleaning involved. A LOT OF CLEANING! And without knowing what the rules and regulations would be, it could be very costly for the custom harvester. I recently read that someone calculated it would take four hours to completely clean the inside of a combine (doesn’t seem like enough to me). I honestly don’t know how you can ever COMPLETELY clean a combine of all grain. Not only will the combine have to be completely cleaned, each truck and tarp will also have to be extensively cleaned to eliminate all particles of any GMO product. Will it have to be certified clean by a specific agency? Will there be chemicals involved? Will the chemicals damage the combine, trucks or tarp? In an article I recently read, it even mentioned purchasing a separate combine for GMO grains and another for Non-GMO grains. Do you know what a new combine costs? That would be a measly $500,000+ expense. Maybe while we’re talking two combines for segregation, we should think about separate trucks too. Hmmm…that WOULD take care of the cleaning aspect!

img_2561 Dumping grain from the field into the on-farm storage (grain bins).

img_2462Ok, so now that we’ve visited that scenario, let’s think about the storage facility. There will have to be segregated sections of the grain elevator to separate Non-GMO and GMO grains. This would be costly for the elevators who are currently set up to dump in one pit and moved by belts, buckets and augers. There would be no way to completely empty this pit of all grain between loads. And think of the time involved! We think we sit in lines now!There would have to be a separate pit for each grain. The elevators will either have to double in size OR be reduced in half of their current storage areas. Can they reduce? Some of these elevators can’t keep up now with commingling taking place. More expense and who is going to pay for this?

img_0053 Steps 5 & 6 – dumping the grain into the pit. This is inside of a grain elevator.



Once the grain is delivered to the elevators, it won’t stay there. What about the trains and trucks that haul this grain away to the next step of processing?

img_2141Step 7 – Grain is hauled from the elevators in semi’s like these. These were used to haul grain from the field to the elevator.

It overwhelms me to think about what would have to happen if the GMO labeling restrictions are put into place. So many unknowns at this point. But it will all be at an expense. An expense that would have to be passed on to the farmer which, in turn, is passed along to the consumer.

img_00951When the cement structures are full of grain, some elevators have outside storage, as well.

Segregation of grains will require new government agencies with lots and lots of new personnel. Why? Because someone will have to verify that GMO particles and dust have not been found on Non-GMO food products. There will be testing and more testing and certification to guarantee the food you purchase with the Non-GMO label is nearly 100% Non-GMO.

Here’s something else to think about – with all the different steps involved in getting grain from the field to market, will you be 100% sure that no contamination has taken place? Can you be certain the box of cereal that boasts Non-GMO is as it says it is?





34 comments on “gmo…labeling the harvest

  1. Neil Rhonemus. says:

    Very well done.

  2. Tom Stegmeier says:

    Great presentation, Having lived on Vancouver Island for 20 yrs, a haven for tree huggers & granola crunchers , I had many discussions & arguments about GMO crops.My question to them ,how much of your disposable income is spent on food ? With out the use of advanced agricultural technologies you’d be paying a whole hell of a lot more & the selves of the stores will be pretty thin of produce.

    • Nebraska Wheatie says:

      And…maybe…just maybe that’s exactly what this country needs to experience. We’ve had too much for quite some time now. When a few more are hungry, they’ll be wishing Agriculture was still feeding them! Thanks for your comments, Tom. I hope someone who doesn’t know sees my post!

  3. Great job! I just hope it reaches the right eyes and ears. This is a good wake up call to those who think anything about agriculture is simple.

    • Nebraska Wheatie says:

      Thanks, Sonja! Maybe I posted it on a bad day but it just felt right. If it’s meant to be seen, I have faith that it will. It certainly was thought about for a long time and wouldn’t go away. 🙂

  4. GNauman says:

    You give the uninformed a lot to think about. We grow popcorn along with corn and soybeans. The popcorn is non-gmo, so I know first hand how long it takes to clean a combine. I take at least one day, and two if time always, let alone the auger wagons and trucks. The gmo crops might have some drawbacks, but with them the chemical and insecticide use is greatly reduced, which in turn is good for the enviroment. Keep up the good work, and happy holidays.

    • Nebraska Wheatie says:

      Thank you!! I appreciate hearing from someone who knows first hand!! I know we clean the combine before each move and we could blow and clean for an entire day. Sometimes, we still find soybeans or corn in crevices midway through the summer.

  5. Very well put together article on gmo verse non gmo crops. Being a Illinois farmer which is 100% gmo along with every other corn and soybean farmer the positive out weigh the negative. I can relate to your pictures which are the same for corn and soybeans also. Old picture of grandpa combine and 4 row cornhead in down corn and muddy condition , been there and done that a few times.

    • Nebraska Wheatie says:

      Thanks, Allan! A lot of negativity about GMO food and I wish we could just help those who believe the untruth become more educated!
      Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

  6. Hi … Allan again reading Farm Word paper last night there is two articles on gmo go to pages 8&9 and 10&11 also.Great thanksgiving.Thank you.

    • Nebraska Wheatie says:

      I would love to read it, Allan, but unfortunately I can’t because I don’t subscribe to it.

  7. Very nicely written and provides a down to earth and practical problem in implementation. I do have three doubts though.
    1. The whole assumption is that we know GMO is not unhealthy and that it meets the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) standards. This is largely true. But what if isn’t? What if we know a few GMOs are problematic. Would you still hold your view?
    2. The problem of grain segregation has already been addressed in the organic world. Why not in the GMO world? After all, Europe has successfully dealt with this. Why not us?
    3. The argument is often made that GMO crops use more chemicals and fertilizers, increasing the cost of cultivation to the farmer. This is passed on to the consumer. But non-GMO crops use far less chemicals and less expensive ones too and yields are easily comparable. So is it really true that GMO grain segregation will cost more than non GMO crop cultivation? Perhaps it will cost less.

    • Jennifer says:

      I am unable to answer all your questions, but I would like to comment about the differences between organic and Europe seed separation. In both cases, the amount of seed would be significantly less. In 2010 only one GMO crop was approved in Europe, a variety of maize resistant to the European corn borer. Currently 49 different GMO varieties have been approved. Spain is the largest producer of GMOs with 20% of its Maize farmed. This is about 340,000 acres. In the United States, 169,000,000 acres were planted with GMO crops. Since Europe has fewer acres and fewer varieties, it would be much easier to keep separate. I don’t farm in Europe, but I assume that those farmers would only use their own equipment and custom harvesters wouldn’t be involved. Home storage could be used instead of communal graineries where contamination would occur. This is similar to what occurs for organic crops in the United States. The small percentage grown is much easier to keep separate.

      I would also like to address your third point. GMOs almost always have higher yields. That is why they are popular with farmers. They often use less chemicals, especially insecticides. The cost difference for the farmer isn’t the only cost we are talking about here. That is just one step in a long process to the consumer. We plant it and we grow it. Then it is harvested. If we use custom harvesters, instead of owning expensive equipment that’s only used two weeks a year, they have additional costs. The truckers, barges, and trains have additional costs. The graineries and factories have extra costs. And if an accident happens and contamination occurs it will also cost money. An average farmer only receives about 12 cents for every dollar spent at the store. The rest is transportation and processing costs. We aren’t the ones passing the costs onto the consumer. The market fluctuates and we sell at what it goes for. If I have a bad year, fuel prices increase and my production is low, I don’t get to say I am charging more for my product.

    • Karen. says:

      Another brief response to the third point. GMO crops do indeed require fewer chemicals overall (and yes, particularly with insecticides), and the use of glyphosate-resistant crops means the farmer also has to physically cultivate the soil less. Every trip of the tractor through the field spends fuel and time; effects wear and tear on the equipment; and results in soil moisture loss, a particular problem in droughted areas. The growth habit of some crops, notably beans, means they can’t be cultivated late in the season to control weeds. Pre-GMO, crews of roguers would walk the fields and individually remove weeds. Finding a crew of roguers is now difficult (very, very few people with other options want to walk beans anymore) and is cost-prohibitive compared to aerial spraying.

    • Joanna says:

      I thought this was a very informative post. I do have a few thoughts with regard to @Ashok’s doubts.

      1. Replace the word “GMO” with organic, particularly problematic when it comes to environmental concerns. I wonder how the argument would change then?
      2. The extra costs associated with organic grain production has been and is paid for from the marketplace via marketing labels versus all consumers’ and taxpayer dollars. Scientific consensus as you noted is that GE crops meet GRAS standards. Thus, to force a government mandate to pay for someone else’s whims or fears is unethical, particularly when the burden of those increased costs would be felt the most by those who can least afford them.
      3. The statement is not supported by evidence. GE crops have higher yields, use less toxic and less pesticides in general, allow for reduced tillage and less topsoil disruption and ultimately a smaller carbon footprint. If they didn’t, why would they be so dang popular amongst farmers? Farmers who are interested in keeping their businesses viable and sustainable for generations to come.

      Just my thoughts in response to yours. I’m a dairy farmer who relies on GE crops to make the grain we feed our cows. Otherwise they are completely grass fed with respect to forages.

  8. Nebraska Wheatie says:

    I have to, again, remind you that I am not a farmer so I appreciate the views of the comments from those who actually do the work involved in getting the grain in the ground, caring for it until it reaches the point of what I do understand – the harvest. I’ve thought about your questions for quite a while, Ashok. I will address the comment about a “few GMO’s are problematic”. I would have to see the science behind this before I would comment one way or another. What I do know and believe is that farmers who grow grain, whether its GMO or Non-GMO care about what they do. It takes a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears (and not to mention expense) to put that crop in the ground. They do this for their family and they do it because they love the life they live. I don’t think there is one farmer out there that would ever do anything that would cause harm to their family, to their livelihood or to fellow human beings. That’s why I question GMO’s being problematic. They feed their families the same food we eat.

    I don’t know enough about grain segregation in Europe – let alone their rules and regulations. What I do know is that there are a tremendous amount of acres planted and harvested in this country. Not all farmers can afford the expense of owning and operating the combines, trucks, tractors and grain carts that are necessary to get the harvest in. That’s why they hire the custom harvesters. The custom harvesters travel from job to job with their machinery to replace the farmer in the field. I don’t see how grain segregation will be an easy chore if GMO labeling comes into play – especially if there is a “zero” tolerance policy in place! Not only will it NOT be easy, I don’t see how true segregation can take place.

    I find it interesting that after I wrote this, I found an article in the Genetic Literacy Project that supports what I wrote about –

    • GMO corn and nonGMO corn, once they are grown, cannot be distinguished from each other once the corn is grown … How would there be a way to test for “GMO corn” in the food chain or on equipment?

      Labeling would create a nightmare of epic proportion for farmers and food producers.

      • Nebraska Wheatie says:

        I don’t even want to think about what a huge mess that would be!! No one understands. They think all you have to do is slap a label on something. No cost involved or problems…yeah right!!

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  12. This is excellent! Something I hadn’t thought about before, but read about with the Oregon law passed recently regarding banning GMO in one county – how would any agency really be able to regulate the labeling of GMO crops? How can it be enforced? Since the only difference is in the seed used, is there any way to tell if the harvested item is GMO?

    • Nebraska Wheatie says:

      I’m not a farmer, of course, so I don’t know the specifics of how the two different types of corn look. I would say you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference by looking. It would take testing. Testing means more labor and more money involved. It would be a trainwreck! I just don’t see how it can happen and be a cheap option for the farmer (or consumer). The amount of manpower and paperwork would be ridiculous!
      Thanks for taking the time to leave your note!

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  15. Aileen says:

    Hi, I came over from Wanda’s blog, Minnesota Farm Living. Regarding your disclaimer at the very beginning of the post that there is no gmo wheat in our food system. I thought wheat was one of the crops in the US that are gmo? So the wheat flour we buy on the grocery store shelves or any of the processed foods that contain wheat are all non-gmo?

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