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Biotech helps grow big crop

Farmers smashed corn production records in 2009, despite growing the crop on fewer acres. And despite poor planting conditions, a cool and wet growing season, and an abysmal harvest that still has some corn standing in fields, American farmers set records for both yield per acre and total production of corn.

Pam Johnson and her family didn’t finish harvesting their corn until early December, a month later than normal. When USDA released its annual summary for the 2009 crop last month, it showed that farmers nationwide harvested 13.2 billion bushels of corn, 2% more than USDA had forecast in November and 1% above the record set in 2007.

“My first reaction was that it just goes to show the great response we are getting from the new genetics and biotech traits — that we can put a crop in the ground and get a good result, although it’s still sometimes a great battle to do so,” says Johnson, a northeast Iowa farmer.

The record U.S. corn and soybean crops produced in 2009 were helped by biotech traits. But the advancements in seed are just one factor behind the boost in production.

Many factors make yield

Crops are helped by adequate rainfall and favorable temperatures as well during the growing season, notes Roger Elmore, Iowa State University Extension corn agronomist. Farmers are also getting better at management. “It all goes hand in hand,” he adds.

Johnson, who farms with her husband and two sons in Floyd County and is active in the National Corn Growers Association, thinks the insect-resistant corn hybrids farmers are using now have stronger root systems, enabling them to handle dry weather periods and make the stalks sturdier.

Rebecca Fecitt, director of biotechnology programs for the U.S. Grains Council, says the continued use of scientifically proven biotechnology provided by life science companies will help increase corn yields, solidifying the need to continue developing markets for U.S. grains.

“We hope to see this upward trend in yields for U.S. corn continue,” says Fecitt. “As science becomes even more sophisticated, it will help increase and maintain our yields. This will be instrumental in feeding the world’s forecasted 9.1 billion people by 2050. The growing population, especially in developing countries, will demand more meat, milk and eggs as incomes continue to rise.”

Fecitt adds, “We have to maintain our biotech education efforts, to ensure that grain derived from biotechnology is accepted around the world.”

‘Food vs. fuel’ a myth

Producing a big crop in 2009, despite adversity, proves farmers can grow enough corn for food and for fuel, says Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol trade group. Growth Energy is made up of ethanol producers and others associated with renewable fuels.

The group released a statement saying the record U.S. corn yield in 2009 shatters the myth of “food vs. fuel.” Growth Energy repeated its demand that “the Grocery Manufacturers Association should apologize for its multimillion-dollar propaganda blitz to spread lies about ethanol.”

Adds Buis, “The January USDA estimate of a record U.S. corn crop in 2009 once again confirms what farmers and renewable fuel producers have known for a long time. Continued innovation in ethanol production and ag technology means we don’t have to make a false choice between food and fuel. We can more than meet the demand for food and livestock feed while reducing our dependence on foreign oil by producing homegrown renewable energy.”

American farmers continue to produce enough corn to meet both demand for ethanol and domestic demand for corn as food and feed, as well as corn for export and still have ample stocks of corn left over for storage, notes Buis.

Source: Grains Council, Growth Energy

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.