Michigan winter wheat, heading, May 24, 2013 [Micki Glueckert photo].
The biggest news of the week was the discovery of an experimental GMO wheat in an Oregon field. The U. S. Department of Agriculture said that there are no genetically modified varieties of wheat that are approved for planting in the U.S. or elsewhere. Monsanto said that the field in which the Round-up ready wheat was found had not been used in its testing program a decade ago, and that it did not think that any Round-up ready wheat had gotten into commercial lots.
Japan said that it was cancelling orders for white wheat, and South Korea soon said that it too would halt purchases until it could test the incoming crops. The European Union has a long-standing policy of not allowing any genetically-modified crops across its borders and said that it would test shipments.
Because the U.S. is the world's largest wheat exporter, and because most other countries are nervous about genetically modified crops, the stray seeds could cause sizable economic shakeups. The New York Times article notes that Spain, once the Romans' bread basket, is now a major importer of United States wheat. Egypt, the country in which wheat came to maturity as a crop thousands of years ago, is now the world's largest importer of wheat, and according to a European wheat dealer, might not be in a position to be choosy about the crops that it takes.
As wheat prices fell, then rose, experts speculated about who might benefit -- Canada? Europe? Australia? Australians say that they are selling enough internally to livestock producers that they might have a hard time helping out. Canadians and Europeans are waiting to see how the further testing and investigation being done by Monsanto and the U.S. Department of Agriculture turns out before they take action.
The discovery may come at an awkward time for Monsanto, which has been under attack on social networks and at rallies for its work with genetically modified products. A recent provision in the federal budget bill that eliminated court oversight of Monsanto and others exacerbated consumer concerns. Web sites like Organic Consumers Association and March Against Monsanto promote boycotts and other consumer actions. On the industry side, several supporters and spokespeople said that "literally trillions of meals with GE ingredients have been consumed since these crops were first commercialized in 1996, with no ill effects on anyone attributable to genetic engineering, and that safety record will continue." To protesters with other data, and with concerns about longer-range effects, those are not necessarily reassuring words.
Whether the wheat is genetically modified or not, farmers still have to deal with the weather. The Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association said that rains during the weekend of June 1 and into the next week could delay spring wheat planting. Severe storms could harm growing crops. They noted that Europe continues to be unseasonably cold, while Russia is hot, and Australia has the rain that it needed.
The May 31 tornadoes in Oklahoma moved northeast late on Friday, toward Missouri and Illinois. Much of the Midwest is due for thunderstorms, hail, and rain.. But as the weather moves away from the Plains states, better growing conditions will return. Wheat in the Pacific Northwest and mountain states will have calm sunny days as well.
Michigan winter wheat field, May 24, 2013 [Micki Glueckert photo.]
The National Association of Wheat Growers is still focused on the agriculture bill making its way through Congress. It's interested in the proposed Clean Water Act regulations that the National Association of Wheat Growers says would "dramatically expand" oversight of wetlands and waterways. The NAWG notes that the U.S. Wheat Association forecasts of a doubling of wheat trade by the year 2050, without providing details of where the increased crop yields or farm land will come from.
All Aboard Wheat Harvest, a blog sponsored by the herbicide company Syntenga and others, follows the lives of several families who contract to harvest crops throughout the U.S. and into Canada. Using their own combines, trucks, and other equipment they bring in wheat, soy, corn, barley, and other grains for farmers throughout most of the United States, and into Canada. They've just started publishing again, as they prepare for a new season, and start spreading out to fields across the country for the 2013 harvest.
Another Michigan winter wheat field, May 24, 2013 [Micki Glueckert photo].