By Pete Bach
Gannett Wisconsin Media
BROTHERTOWN — The corn crop sprouting on Bill Hansen's 150-acre farm in Calumet County has a secret: It's fortified with special traits at the microscopic level.
Such genetic alterations begin with the corn seed, which allows it to grow into a plant resistant to rootworms and insects, disease and drought, as well as the popular herbicide Roundup.
It's important because encroaching weeds compete for the same moisture as crops; killing them without collateral damage to the corn makes for a more productive field with noticeably taller stalks, Hansen said.
Genetically altered crops have become the norm. Eighty percent to 90 percent of all soybeans planted in Wisconsin possess what the agricultural community refers to as biotech yield traits, said Kevin Jarek, crops, soils and horticulture agent for the University of Wisconsin-Extension in Outagamie County.
That's also true for 40 percent of the corn grown in the state.
"When you look at crops that have been grown with biotech improvements in the state, it's grown exponentially from where it was five or 10 years ago," Jarek said.
But Wisconsin's blooming biotech industry doesn't just protect corn. It helps protect the state's economic interests too.
The industry in Wisconsin, home to more than 400 biotech companies employing 34,000 people, is among the nation's largest.