Setting the record straight, from a farmer’s perspective, is all in a day’s work for Claremont, Minn., farmer Mike Petefish.

When a group of anti-GMO activists confronted some corn farmers at a convention, he calmly approached them to present the scientific facts on GMOs. It comes naturally to him, given his personality and education. With degrees in plant genetics and agronomy, “I have science on my side,” he says. But Petefish was surprised that day how ill informed some of his fellow farmers were. When several farmers asked the activists, “What is a GMO?” and upon hearing their reply said, “Well, that doesn’t sound too safe.

“Food safety and GMOs are one of the biggest issues facing our industry, so I see this as a good investment of time when someone bashes my occupation and my lifestyle,” Petefish says.

The 29-year-old farmer has an undergraduate degree in Plant Breeding and Plant Biology and a Master’s in Agronomy. “I just talk to people about the truth of the matter, from my perspective,” he says.

It’s uncommon for a young person to step forward that eagerly, says Petefish’s neighbor, farmer/volunteer Bruce Schmoll, who described a similar, exchange that he observed: “At a recent volunteer food-shelf event in Minneapolis, a volunteer said that the food shelf shouldn’t include GMO-containing foods. Her feet were pretty dug in on the issue. Mike explained that he’s a fifth-generation farmer, and cited examples of beneficial GMO-related materials like insulin and organic farmers’ approved use of Bt as a biopesticide. 

“By the time Petefish finished visiting with her, the anti-GMO Mom had done a 180-degree turnaround,” Schmoll says. “Most farmers don’t want to leave their comfort zone; it’s not in our nature. But Mike breaks the mold.”

That’s one reason why Schmoll recommended Petefish, a fellow Dodge County Soybean Association director, for an American Soybean Association/DuPont Pioneer Young Leader program to build on these communication strengths. Program graduates will ultimately be in a talent pool for long-term national association leadership roles.

“This next lull in agriculture will separate the tractor drivers from the farm managers,” Petefish says of the potential for farmers to step up and discuss key issues with consumers.