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Skipping A Vote, Boulder County Will Instead Craft Transition Plan For GMO Crops

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Luke Runyon
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KUNC and Harvest Public Media
Longmont-area farmers Fameur Rasmussen and Jules Van Thuyne grow genetically-engineered corn and sugar beets on Boulder County open space.

Boulder County commissioners want to create a plan to remove genetically-engineered crops, commonly known as GMOs, off county-owned land.

Commissioners chose not to take a formal vote on the county’s cropland policy at a meeting. Instead the three-person panel directed county staff to write up a transition plan to disallow GMO corn and sugar beets from being grown on open space land within three to seven years.

Currently farmers grow GMO corn and sugar beets on about 1,000 acres of Boulder County open space.

County commissioners held a nine hour public hearing in February 2016 regarding the issue. Farmers and agricultural groups argued the plant varieties are safe and allow them to raise a profitable crop, while national and local environmental activists said the land would be better used for vegetable crops, and expressed concern about pesticides linked to some crop varieties.

“All three commissioners highlighted the need to work with the farming community to make sure the board’s decision to move in a direction of banning GMOs on county-owned open space does not put undue burden on those farmers,” reads a statement from the Boulder County commissioners’ office.

Those farmers have said the decision to move away from GMO crops on county land would indeed bring a burden. Prior to the meeting, Longmont-area farmer Jules Van Thuyne, who grows genetically-engineered sugar beets, said sugar growers are often locked into multiyear contracts with their local co-op. Finding conventional sugar beet seed is close to impossible, Van Thuyne said, and a ban on GMO sugar beets is essentially a ban on nearly all sugar beets in a county that partially built its agricultural heritage on growing them.

“These aren’t corporate farms. These are farm families that have been here for several generations whose livelihood is very much affected by this decision,” Van Thuyne said.

Local anti-GMO groups are taking a celebratory tone in response to the decision, suggesting the move away from GMOs was a dig against agrichemical giant Monsanto, and the nine farmers who choose to grow the crops on county land.

“If those farmers cannot comply to the Cropland Policy, the land should be leased to farmers who can use regenerative and sustainable large-scale farming practices,” writes Boulder activist Mary Von Breck in a post.

Commissioners also asked staff to create a work plan that includes long-term monitoring of soil health, water quality, and pollinator health on open space land, and a feasibility study to look at the development of an Agricultural Research Station in Boulder County.

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