If you go

What: The Boulder County commissioners will take public input on the proposed cropland policy, which includes rules governing whether genetically modified crops can be grown on county open space. The commissioners will not make a final decision until the following week.

When: 6 p.m. Dec. 8

Where: Longmont Conference Center, 1850 Industrial Circle

More info: bouldercounty.org

The second of two advisory committees tasked with recommending a management plan for cropland owned by Boulder County voted Thursday night to phase out genetically modified crops on open space.

The Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee voted 5-4 late Thursday to support a policy recommendation crafted Wednesday night by the county's Food and Agriculture Policy Council.

That policy calls for the county to create a plan for transitioning away from genetically modified organisms in an economically viable way, though the recommendation does not set a deadline for completing the transition.

"We've had a huge outcry from the citizens of Boulder County with regard to their feelings about GMOs," said committee member Sue Cass. "I think (the phase-out policy) is a compromise that may get us to a place over time where we can all, as we say, coexist."

Genetically modified corn has been grown on some of the 16,000 acres of cropland owned by the county for about a decade. But debate over GMOs on county-owned land was sparked in 2009 after six local farmers asked permission to plant sugar beets that were engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup.

After a series of heated public meetings, the Boulder County commissioners decided in 2009 to delay the decision about sugar beets until the open space department could create a comprehensive cropland management plan.

The meeting Thursday night came two days after about 250 members of the public attended a meeting of both the Food and Agriculture Policy Council and the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee. The majority of those people asked the two advisory boards to ban GMOs on county-owned land.

Farmers who now lease land from the county have argued that banning GMO crops would be financially devastating.

On Wednesday night, the Food and Agriculture Policy Council voted 5-4 to support a phase-out of GMOs. On Thursday night, the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee followed suit, voting 5-4 to support a similar phase-out policy.

Committee member John Nibarger said Thursday he was torn between doing what's best for the farmers who now lease the land and listening the vocal public opposition to GMOs.

"There's the voters' side of this, and there's the farmers' side of this," he said. "I think we heard rather strongly on Tuesday ... (that a lot of voters) don't want to see GMO crops. But I'm worried about the farmers. I want to make sure that they can be economically viable -- that they can be around -- that multi-generational farmers can still be here."

Nibarger said he believes the transition plan would allow the county to help farmers change their practices without being economically hurt.

Janice Moore was one of four committee members who supported allowing GMOs and voted against the transition policy.

"Many of our conventional farmers not only provide us with a great amount of lease money but they are also third- and fourth-generation farms who have been farming in Boulder County almost as long as farmers have been here," she said. "I feel a little pain associated with a policy that is essentially designed to get rid of them."

Open space staffers said Thursday night that, in the worst-case scenario, a GMO ban could lead to losing farmer tenants for about 6,000 acres of the county's cropland, which, in turn, could lead to a drop in county revenue of about $1.5 million.

But committee member Cathy Comstock said she doesn't think the possibility of economic loss is a good enough reason to continue to allow GMOs on open space.

"I just feel that there are so many risks associated with GMOs. ... I don't want us to go there," she said. "I would rather take the risk of the other economic problems than this risk."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Laura Snider at 303-473-1327 at sniderl@dailycamera.com.