More on GMO wheat

A couple weeks ago, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story on GMO wheat that's been picked up by several other news outlets.

This is a controversial topic, even among some farm groups, and it is one I've touched on several times in the past (e.g., see here or here).

In the most recent article, I'm identified as a "a supporter of GMO wheat."  I can understand why the reporter would write that, but I think it is better to say that I'm a supporter of reasonable regulation and producer choice.  

It wouldn't bother me if a seed company or University put out a GMO wheat variety that didn't pass the market test (that no one wanted to buy).  But, what is troubling is the position that wheat producers cannot have access to a perfectly safe technology while canola, soy, and corn producers can.  Yes, there are some complicated trade issues involved, and there are fears about market power, but I see little reason these issues can't be sorted out in the marketplace, as it has with these other commodities.

By "reasonable regulation", what I mean is that we've created this strange climate around GMOs that both make the regulatory costs of introducing a new variety quite high and raise the hackles of some of our trading partners.  But, I'm not sure it's a very reasonable climate.  For example, I'll note that some of my excellent colleagues at Oklahoma State have released a new wheat variety that is herbicide resistant but that is not, technically, a GMO.  However, as would be the case with a GMO, producers are not allowed to save and replant the seed because the variety is protected by a patent.  In short, the wheat breeders have delivered almost everything one would expect in a GMO, except it isn't technically a GMO.  

What that tells me is that it's often silly to focus on the tool (i.e., whether a certain genetic technique was used) rather than the outcome.  But, as the example also shows, when artificial barriers to innovation and trade are introduced, entrepreneurs will find a way around it if the demand is there.  

P.S. On the topic of wheat genetics, note the recent article forthcoming in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics by Jessie Tack, Andy Barkley, and Lanier Nalley.  They show that yield potentials have been increasing steadily over time, but the gap between potential yield and actual farm yield has also been increasing over time.  They attribute the gap to on-farm management/production decisions.