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In Boulder County, An Effort To Ban GMO Crops Moves Ahead

Luke Runyon
Boulder County farmers Famuer Rasmussen and Jules Van Thuyne grow GMO sugar beets and corn on county land near Longmont.

Officials in Boulder County have released a plan to remove all genetically-modified crops from county-owned farmland within the next five years.

The county’s commissioners directed staffers to draft the plan following a series of heated public hearings in early 2016, where scientists argued farmers were being unfairly targeted and local activists said the crops in question threaten the county’s agricultural viability, and its reputation as an environmentally-conscious community.

The plan calls for farmers who lease county land for their operations to stop planting GMO corn within the next three years, and sugar beets within the next five years.

Nine farmers currently grow the modified corn and sugar beets on the county land they lease. The plants are engineered to withstand applications of an herbicide, sold under the brand name RoundUp, that kills weeds.

In their plan, county staffers acknowledged that forcing the switch to non-GMO crop varieties could result in added inputs, like the use of more pesticides and fertilizer, increased costs, and decreased yields for the affected farmers.

The plan calls for additional resources and staff to help with the transition, including a crew to pull weeds on organic operations, a new county worker to help with organic certification and reduced rent for farmers who decide to pursue organic certification. The proposal also calls for transition plans for tenants who decide to continue leasing land and make the switch to non-GMO crops.

Commissioners Deb Gardner and Elise Jones, both Democrats, were the most vocal in supporting the ban. Each campaigned in 2012 to remove GMO crops from county land, citing sustainability and environmental concerns. Both are running this November to hold on to their seats.

Since the 1970s, the county has been in the business of buying farmland, leasing the land back to farmers. As of early 2016, the county manages more than 100,000 acres of open space. Of that land, about 1 percent is planted with GMO corn and sugar beets every year.

The proposal will be the subject of at least four public hearings on Oct. 24, Oct. 27, Nov. 17 and Nov. 30.

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