High-tech bridges medicine and agriculture

By Mike Barnett

I was in the hospital recently and as I watched the steady drip, drip, drip of the IV feeding into my arm, I marveled at the technology the doctors at Scott & White Hospital in Temple were using to restore my health.

Millions of dollars in research, tons of investment in machinery and mountains of skill and knowledge were used to get me back on my feet. And as I lay in the hospital bed, I started thinking how similar doctors were to farmers.

High-tech is a bridge between medicine and agriculture.

That steady drip of the IV rehydrating my body reminded me of the slow release of drip irrigation systems, which allows farmers to efficiently use water and nutrients to help plants grow and stay healthy and strong.

A CAT scan used to map out my operation made me think of the GPS systems on farm machinery, which with the help of sensors and a host of gee-whiz technology, can allow a farmer to deliver the precise amount of fertilizer a crop needs at a particular part of the field to maximize yields.

Doctors used antibiotics to fight the infection in my body, much as farmers use antibiotics to nurse sick livestock back to health.

And biotechnology? It’s the backbone of many new medicines used to cure some pretty devastating diseases. It’s also a huge tool used in agriculture to develop crops resistant to disease, bugs and drought.

I could go on and on about high-tech in both medicine and agriculture. But I’m very thankful for the doctors and nurses who took care of me during my hospital stay, much as I am thankful for the farmers and ranchers who provide for my daily needs for food.

It troubles me that many vocal people actively deride the miracles of modern agriculture, advocating that we go back to the “good old days of 40 acres and a mule.” I wonder if they want their doctors to go back to the days of the “little black bag.”

Mike Barnett

Director of Publications
Texas Farm Bureau
I’m a firm believer that farmers and ranchers will continue to meet the needs of a growing world population by employing equal measures of common sense, conservation and technology.
Follow Mike on Twitter and Facebook.

22 Responses to “High-tech bridges medicine and agriculture”

  1. It’s my opinion that most baby boomers believe a doctor’s word is the Bible, and all technology is good technology. Consequently you won’t find too many Boomers that don’t take pills everyday. Further, the last disease we cured was Polio 57 years ago. Why have the cures stopped? The money is in treatment. With regards to farming, who believes they’d be better off consuming more “technology” foods like Xanthum Gum, High Fructose Corn Syrup or #7 Yellow Dye? Compared to more fruits, vegetables and whole grains right from the farmer’s fields. Ultimately, most “miracles of modern agriculture” are profit focused. Truth is money skews, and nobody is watching out for you, but you. Do your own research and use common sense.

  2. Gene Hall says:

    Clay, an informed consumer and patient is always best. So is common sense and doing your own research. I hope you’ve noticed that we’ve always advocated diets high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Additives are another matter, but most people are not going to be stampeded into being terrified of their food supply. Mike was referring to technology allowing many production gains in agriculture and a net benefit in both medicine and agriculture. HFC is just sugar and we should absolutely not eat too much of it from any source. I am a boomer. I take a pill only when I need one. I’ve not needed a doctor too many times in my life, thankfully, but I tend to trust them when I do. No – a doctor’s word is not the Bible, but I do trust the skill of my family doc and the technology that backs it up. I have a 24 year old son that graduates from Texas A&M tomorrow – because we trusted an oncologist 19 years ago.

  3. Billy B. Brown says:

    Excellent piece Mike. Although your moment for reflection was not one in the environment that would be recommended, your thoughts ring true with your comparisons. We have come a long way…and it has been for the better.

    I appreciate Clay’s concerns but I think most of problem of the concerns land in the hands of the consumers, scientist and doctors, not the farmers. His “consumption” problem is the responsiblity of those who “consume”, not those who “produce.”

    If Clay also finds a problem with the agricultural producer making a profit perhaps he would like to share with us how he pays his bills.

    Thanks for the write, Mike. Miracles happen everyday.

    • Mike Barnett says:

      You mean, Billy, you’re not farming for your health? It worries me that so many think that making a living in agriculture—and maximizing your resources toward profitability–is a bad thing. Thanks for your comment!

    • I own a Kwik Kar lube center in Dallas and have 27 employees. I work hard everyday trying to maximize profit. However, am I the best person to ask if you should change your oil every 3,000 miles?

      • Mike Barnett says:

        No, Clay. But I’m going to the mechanic when things go wrong. I think we both agree that personal responsibility plays a huge role in all our decisions–medical, what we eat–everything. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

        • Billy B. Brown says:

          Clay, thanks for your reply. I believe both of us as businessmen are faced with many of the same decisions. I also would think there are a number of things which we agree. For those we don’t or perhaps have a lack of complete understanding, dialogue such as this is very important for each of us to learn from the other.

          Appreciate hearing your views Clay.

          • Gene Hall says:

            Actually Clay, I’m an every 3000 miles oil changer myself – and you are exactly the kind of guy I want advising me on that. Have a good weekend all.

  4. I myself have concerns about the medical industry and lack of cures (because there is no money in cures, just treatments and maintenance)AND biotechnology in farming.

    Is high tech in farming really better?

    I have chosen to avoid genetically modified foods because of biotech. Because there have been no long-term independent studies to prove that GMO’s are safe, and some new research on animals is showing serious fertility issues, I do not and cannot believe that the biotech industry cares one whit about the health of humans. It is a big money-making industry just like pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.

    Thank you for allowing me to voice my opinions and concerns on this subject. It is very important to me.

    • Gene Hall says:

      Michele – thanks for posting, same on the Facebook page. You’ve clearly done some thinking, you are not shouting or calling people names and we enjoy discussion with you. That’s not always the case on this topic. Clearly we have a difference of opinion. As I admitted the first day I did this blog, I am an unabashed supporter of capitalism and free enterprise. In medicine, food production or anything else, we will make zero gains unless someone can make money off it. This goes for food production – If farmers can’t make a “live in a nice house and send three kids to college kind of profit” then we are doomed to be like the other countries wondering where the next meal will be imported from. And, eventually, we’ll care a lot less about biotech, which is a process – not a product.

      • Gene Hall says:

        Sorry Michele, I almost forgot to answer your question. There are lot’s of niche markets to be served by farming entrepreneurs with local, organic, free range and so on. But – in terms of feeding the world, expecting 9 billion eating souls in less than 40 years, yes – hi tech is better and growing more sustainable every day.

        • Thank you for your kind and gentle response. I so appreciate civil discourse.

          Regarding feeding the world on GMO’s: do you have any studies that show they produce larger yields, are more drought resistant, or more nutritious for the amount of food that you consume?

          Also, for third world countries especially, the need to repurchase RoundUp Ready seed each season is prohibitively expensive for small farmers. As an example we have RoundUp Ready cotton seeds in India. That was a mitigated disaster.

          Most poorer nations would need to reuse seed from their own harvests. I feel the Monsanto RoundUp Ready is a financial trap for farmers. And then, of course, they would need to buy and use RoundUp.

          I would love to see some scientific proof that GMO’s are going to feed the world.

          • Gene Hall says:

            Don’t have a lot of time today Michele. This is not my main job. I note you are from India, so I won’t argue about what’s going on there. You should know, right? Biotech has always been about potential, some of which is starting to be realized. Those patents do expire and RR is not that far away. See this link.


            I suppose you could select for genes that make plants more nutritious. Golden rice was produced with more Vitamin A. Some argue about it, but the pro and con is easy to find online. The same for pest resistance. Scientists select for a naturally occuring protein that bugs don’t like. In some cases, the technology to make a difference is there today. I others, there is promise. No one can tell you, “we’ll get there next week.” The scientific method doesn’t work that way. However, biotech in food and fiber is promising enough the keep looking. I think the proof that biotech can HELP feed the world, along with other technologies, including improved conventional. But – if technology can’t do it, or if we’re not allow to use it…what can? I have other project today. Enjoy the last word and thanks for posting. Gene

          • Gene Hall says:

            Sorry for the typos..in a hurry

          • Michele Haynes says:

            Clarifying: I am living in Connecticut now but I lived in Texas for 11 years and my family is there (native Texans). That is where I hope to spend the rest of my years once I get back there.

            I will read the article you posted and appreciate you getting back to me.

          • Michele Haynes says:

            I see a reference to Golden Rice which was an attempt to increase the vitamin A content in a part of the rice that previously had almost no nutrition.

            I did some reading on this rice variety and found some concerns about the ability of the human body to actually absorb vitamin A from the rice.

            It amazes me that so many cultures around the world would polish their rice, removing the real nutrition before consuming it. I remember reading an article about a phenomenon discovered in Asia somewhere (sorry I do not have a reference at this time). Chickens that had previously been fed cooked brown rice (the rice in its natural form before being polished) were switched to polished white rice. Within a short period of time the chickens failed to thrive.

            In this case BioTech is trying to accomplish something that isn’t even necessary. Educating people on the merits of eating whole grains vs. highly processed white grains stripped of their nutrition would be much more effective and sustainable.

            I am very excited to read the article you linked on the expiration of RR patents. Monsanto and other biotech firms have disallowed the use of their patented seeds in any kind of independent testing for safety and nutrition. Very soon scientists in the US will be able to begin testing RR and Bt seeds for the truth about their safety and usefulness along with nutritional value. Very soon we will not need to rely on foreign scientific studies (which are ignored by the FDA, USDA and biotech). I cannot wait for the results.

            In the meantime, I am a mom to six children and two grandchildren (one of those will be born in November but still needs nutrition from food). I have been a stay-at-home mom for 25 years. I am not a paid political activist but I do care.

            I am taking the time to comment on this article because I care about our nation’s food supply and the farmers that grow it. My guess is that GMO crops are not going to be the way to go in the next few years as we are already seeing serious resistance to RoundUp and Bt in the Bt corn currently grown in the US.

            GMO crops are not sustainable. They encourage monoculture, vast amounts of glyphosate are being sprayed as weeds become more and more resistant, and are unnatural. They require more water and are failing horribly in the midwest drought.

            The buffer crops required to grow GMO crops actually produce less of the intended crop than conventional non-GMO farming. I do not see the benefits to GMO farming. I see the benefit to Monsanto and its investors but to the world I am not seeing it.

            I am hoping that Texas farmers begin to look past the GMO craze started in 1996 and look to a safe and sustainable future.

            Thank you for allowing me to voice my concerns and opinions. I love Texas. My heart is in Texas and always will be no matter how far away I am.

  5. heather Copeland says:

    Genetically modified food sounds good in theory but the reality is that it’s just not responsible technology. The DNA strand can become quite volital when substitutes are made. Viruses and bacteria are used to introduce these modifications.

    The grand inspiration, or the fictitious inspiration, behind GMO’s is to meet the needs of a growing world. Providing inexpensive food for the masses. However I never witnessed the price on my cereal box going down. It is easy to see, for anyone with a high-school education, these companies are all about the bottom line. But my bottom line is for the health and well-being of my family. Genetically modified foods are untested. Plus the company that produces them in large amouts have been caught in fraudgulent practices regarding the GMO’s. Hiding studies, gag orders on employees who try to speak out, and falsifying documents are not conducive of a company that holds any kind of integrity. Therefore why should I believe them? If there are any studies that are encouraging regarding gmo’s, it is my strong belief that it is false information produced by the manufacturers.

    • Mike Barnett says:

      That’s you opinion, Heather, and we certainly respect it. But I disagree. You say genitically modified foods are untested. That is not true. There are a lot of conspiracy theories and rumors flying around the internet and it is the responsibity of individual consumers to one, either trust the FDA, which has oversight over GMO’s and has tested the ones on the market for safety, or two, dig through the research and make your own decision. Your opinion, it seems, is anti-GMO. I don’t have a problem with them. Thanks for reading and responnding.

    • Heather, I think you’re right. These farmers, ranchers and companies are “all about the bottom line”. Is that bad? Gene nailed it on two points. America is based on capitalism (free markets), and a profit has to be made, or nobody would produce food. So this battle rages at the cash register where one lady buys non-GMO goods and the lady next in line buys GMO products. The dollars are tallied and profits (or lack of) flow back to the producers.

      There’s tons of research, pro and con, out there for GMO’s. Each side is well armed with facts. Make up your own mind, “vote” at the cash register with your dollars, and food producers will act accordingly with the profits (or lack of) you send them. God bless America and long live free enterprise.

  6. Gene Hall says:

    I was going to respond earlier, but I see it’s mostly been taken care of. I agree with a lot of what Clay says. I hope he’ll discount an oil change for me when I’m in Dallas sometime 😉 – Heather, no food product in the history of planet earth has been tested more than biotech. I have considerably more than a high school education, as I assume you do as well. You should not be shocked that it’s about the bottom line. Everything is and must be in a successful economic system. If that stops, the American success story stops with it. As consumers we must learn to discern the difference between scientific fact, internet lore and pop culture nonsense. All of this purports to be the truth. This is all stuff we’ve discussed a lot. I won’t be back unless I can add something new. Good day all.

    • Michele Haynes says:

      Gene, I am a 3,000-mile oil changer myself and am most appreciative of my 22yo son who takes care of that for me.

      I also believe wholly in free enterprise and capitalism as long as there are enough safeguards and regulations in place to protect consumers. It has been proven over and over that corporations do not have consciences. They ONLY look at the bottom line. When they do consider safety it is because they are forced or for economic reasons. In most cases it is more cost effective to settle lawsuits from harmful and deadly effects than it is to remove a product. This is built into a product’s business model. This is not due to capitalism being flawed; it is due to human greed, a flaw in the human character.

      I am, as are many of my friends, a Republican, believe in small government, less regulation (or smarter regulation), freedom for entrepreneurs, and a free market. I buy American products when that alternative is available, have a son in the oil and gas industry, and believe our country should be governed according to the U.S. Constitution.

      Monsanto and other chemical companies have produced product after product that have ultimately turned out to be not only dangerous but deadly. We cannot yell “it is all about the bottom line” without caring whether the profit making process leaves a trail of sick or dead Americans. Monsanto claimed that RoundUp was biodegradable, lied about this fact, and was fined for this false claim. Pharmaceutical companies, likewise, cover up adverse effects of their medications long enough to make their intended profit before being forced to pull products from the market. This has been recorded over and over and over.

      GMO’s have NOT been proven to be safe. Independent studies of GMO’s have indicated many potential health issues. Again, they are invalidated with a wave of the hand and touted as fear-mongering or internet myths when that is not the case.

      Americans who are concerned about consuming GMO’s are not the fringe lunatic. When Americans are educated about what a GMO really is, most have concerns and actually begin to try to avoid GMO’s.

      Texas farmers need to be aware of an education program going on throughout the United States that will begin to put pressure on food producers to grow non-GMO crops.

      For my own family, due to my own chronic health issues and those of two of my sons, I have chosen to avoid GMO’s. In the three weeks since I have deliberately avoided GMO’s my children and I are actually feeling a difference in our health and energy levels.

      This story has been repeated all over our country by those who have decided to avoid GMO’s and changed their diets. Health issues have resolved. This has not been studied and proven because Monsanto has forbidden any independent study of their seeds and the subsequent crops.

      Thank you again for allowing me to share my concerns and voice my opinions.

      God bless.

      • Gene Hall says:

        Michele, this is a moderated blog and I did post your last, though reluctantly, because you’ve been a considerate and thoughtful responder. Let me explain, we’ve had to enforce some rules on this blog and on our social media spaces. I’m glad that the choices you’ve made as a mother are working for you, but a lot of the claims you’ve made against Monsanto are Internet lore and more than a little hyperbole. In our early experiments with this blog we discovered that we’d spend all our working hours checking out the claims against Monsanto. It’s not our job to defend them, but we did not want our space to become just another of dozens of places to bash that company or others. With all that overheated rhetoric, some of it hysterically false, flying around it’s hard to have a discussion. Not saying that’s you, but once the M word is used, it gets a little wild. As to “proven” – well I guess that is a matter of expectations. Several governments, scientific groups, medical associations, private foundations and others have been satisfied with the level or proof, and so have I. I respect your conclusions but mine are not based on thin air, or exclusively on the bottom line. Agriculture is regulated up to the eyeball with layers of food safety protection. If you can’t eat safely in America, you can’t do it anywhere on the planet. Of course, I believe it’s clear you can. Again, I posted your latest, and as I’ve already said, I’m about done. As far as Monsanto is concerned…that will have to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>