It all started with fog, my watch and a chicken on the brink of starvation nearly 50 years ago. This is when I realized that it was my duty to be an American farmer to grow food for our country and the rest of the world.

I served in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine back in the late 60s and there’s one distinct memory that’s etched in my mind – every few days, a helicopter would drop food for the soldiers, and there was one foggy week that prevented air traffic from flying over and aiding us with supplies. We got to a point of being without food for three days, and I, along with my squadron of nine, had never been so hungry in our lives.

We were walking down a trail and ran into some native Vietnamese who were carrying bags of rice. Without even questioning, I traded my watch for a bag of rice to quell our hunger. As we forged ahead, we found a wild chicken and desperately needed protein. Being from Iowa, I was the only farm kid in the group, so I prepared the chicken and boiled it in water in a helmet.

It hit me, as we were sitting there, gorging on our chicken and rice, that nobody knew what to do with the chicken except me. That’s especially true with today’s millennial generation so far removed from the farm. It made me think, if we ever have a food supply problem in America, there aren’t a lot of people who know what to do with a chicken, a pig, or cattle. Although I initially had no intention of going back to the farm after serving in Vietnam, this experience fueled my motivation to serve my country after the military in another way – working in agriculture to provide food to others.

Although I initially had no intention of going back to the farm after serving in Vietnam, this experience fueled my motivation to serve my country after the military in another way – working in agriculture to provide food to others.

Through my experience in the Vietnam War, I saw first-hand that when people are hungry, they’ll do desperate things. And if their children are hungry, they’ll do anything and sometimes it will even involve a weapon.

In some parts of Asia and Africa, access to food is a serious threat, and as a farmer, seeing the importance of food moving across borders is imperative in restoring world peace.

In our state, half of the grain we produce is exported overseas, so trade and political agreements are crucial in order to distribute America’s global supply of food. We live in a society where any food is at our fingertips, yet others across the globe don’t know when they’ll have their next meal.

Two things can have an immense impact on small villages who are trying to sustain a steady food source: solar-powered refrigerators and biotech seeds.

Communities and people in the developing world have an entirely different diet because they are unable to refrigerate any of their food. Access to this resource would allow them to save leftovers and store milk and other perishable foods that improve their nutrition. This invention is one of the greatest tools for mankind.

Much of the food production in Africa is done by women who cannot read or write. With access to biotech seeds to fend off corn earworms and rootworms, and an herbicide to protect against weeds, they could double yields instantaneously. Even without the ability to read, using these resources to plant and protect these crops is instinctive in nature. Not only could they sustain their diets, but they would have extra grain to sell and pay for shoes, medicine and other basic necessities.

What makes me proud as an American farmer are the opportunities that genetically engineered options have provided. Not only do they protect against weeds and pests that affect our yields, but they give farmers more time to focus on important things, such as managing the operation and implementing smarter farming methods.

When I was growing up, every summer was spent in the field hoeing weeds. This was a daily chore for numerous hours, and now with biotech seeds and chemistries to safeguard the crop, our children have time for Little League, swimming and dance class, which is something my generation never had the opportunity to do. And, as a parent, I am doing all the things with my children that my parents always missed out on.

My father always struggled to make my football games because he was frantically harvesting our corn, afraid that any wind would knock over the stalks because of rootworm. Now, with the added protection of biotechnology, our stalks stand strong enhancing our yield.

I’m proud today to be an American farmer and to provide nourishment to others across the world.

Consumers often take biotechnology for granted, however, I think it’s one of America’s most productive and sustainable accomplishments. It protects our food supply to feed many who are starving, and allows me to be a better farmer, husband and father.  

Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans, specialty crops and other grains on a family farm in North Central Iowa. In partnership with his brother, Bill provides leadership to Horan BioProduction, LLC. A former Marine and Vietnam veteran, he received a BS from South Dakota State University and completed the Harvard Business School – Agricultural Executive Education Program. Bill volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network and provides leadership as Chairman. He serves on the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank Advisory Committee, Iowa Dept. of Transportation Freight Advisory Committee and is Chairman of the Board of Western Iowa Energy, a thirty million gallon a year Biodiesel Plant.