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NAMPA, Idaho — A Meridian High School FFA member won a prepared speech contest with a presentation about how genetically modified crops can help Idaho farmers continue to feed the world despite the continuing loss of farmland.
Ashton Shaul, a senior, memorized her entire 8-minute presentation and was the only one of the six competitors not to use notes.
She has been invited to repeat her presentation Feb. 6 during the Nampa Chamber of Commerce’s 5th Annual Ag Forum, which will feature a panel discussion about the steady disappearance of farmland in southwestern Idaho.
A catalyst for this year’s Ag Forum theme was a recent Boise State University study that projected rapid development growth in the Treasure Valley of southwestern Idaho would result in the loss of between 110,000 and 240,000 acres of farmland by the year 2100.
Some groups have started thinking of ways to help stem the loss of farmland in Idaho through the use of such methods as a voluntary statewide farmland easement program.
But Shaul argued that the use of genetically modified crops, known as GMOs, was the best way to help Idaho farmers produce more food on less land.
She said “the solution is right in front of us, yet it’s still rejected by society based on unfounded fears” and anti-GMO claims “are exaggerated to demonize agriculturists who are trying to feed the same population that condemns them.”
The use of biotech crops allows farmers to produce more food on less land, “which is specifically relevant to Idaho, seeing as we are now one of the fastest growing states in the country,” Shaul said.
As an example of how fast the Treasure Valley is growing, she said, the West Ada County School District is projected to have 70,000 students by the year 2050, double it current amount.
As most people understand, she added, “more people equals less farmland.”
“Biotechnology is not our enemy,” Shaul said. “Through the use of biotechnology, we have seen amazing advancements in the agriculture industry as a whole....”
“Urbanization doesn’t have to be the death of our agriculture industry but it could be the birth of a new era in Idaho agriculture,” she said. “One where we’re ... (known) as the pioneers of new agricultural technologies and the state that fought to feed the world.”
The purpose of this year’s Ag Forum is to educate Canyon County’s business and agriculture communities about the heavy pressure on farmland, said Nampa Chamber of Commerce Director of Operations Amy Bowman.
“As farmers execute their private property rights to sell their land, and agricultural lands turns into asphalt, the neutral role of the Nampa chamber is to bring the community together to become educated and engaged around the topic of agricultural land and planned development,” she said in an email.