Billionth Biotech Acre Planted

Swift acceptance of biotechnology is a testament of the benefits farmers see, leaders say. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: May 9, 2005

Around 3 o'clock a.m. Monday morning the agriculture industry welcomed a significant milestone. It was estimated at this time that the billionth acre of biotech crop was planted.

Dean Kleckner, chairman of Truth About Trade and Technology and former American Farm Bureau Federation President, said he greeted the milestone with a wine toast to the benefits of the technology that has transformed the way farmers do business in the 21st Century. TATT has an acreage counter that tracks the planting of biotech acres around the world.

TATT representatives teamed with farmer leaders from the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Cotton Council in Chicago Monday to recognize the planting of the one-billionth acre of biotech-enhanced agricultural commodities.

Leaders stressed reaching this milestone in less than 10 years underscores the rapid adoption and acceptance of the technology. It also demonstrates that farmers are realizing important benefits. When compared to how long it took for the acceptance of hybrids, pasteurization, artificial insemination and others, biotechnology had proven itself quickly, explains Kleckner.

Crop biotechnology has led to reduced tillage practices across all crops with biotech traits. These reduced tillage practices are saving 1 billion tons of topsoil annually, reducing by 309 million gallons the amount of fuels used by farmers and decreasing greenhouse gases released by 1 billion pounds. Biotechnology has decreased pesticide applications by 46 million pounds and is saving U.S. consumers $3.5 billion in water treatment and management costs.

Some of the key benefits transfer from producers' pocketbooks to consumers. As the technology advances, crops are being used in new ways. For example, corn and soybeans are being used for ethanol and biodiesel. New heart healthy soybeans are being planted. And many products, for example plastic, are being made from corn-based products instead of petroleum.

Predicting what lies ahead

When the biotechnology was first discussed in the early 90s, Texas cotton farmer Craig Shook said he and fellow growers thought it was just an interesting new tool and hoped they'd live to see the fruits of its introduction. And the introduction has gone beyond his imagination of how it could benefit producers.

After one year of introduction, biotech crops expanded 50 fold in 1996, NCC Secretary-Treasurer Shook says. Kleckner expects that in the next 10 years there will be another billion seeds planted. Biotech crops will become the conventional way for agriculture.

U.S. farmers remain supportive of the bioechnology, although Monsanto was greeted with opposition to introducing biotech wheat. U.S. farmers feared lost export markets with biotechnology introduction in wheat.

Kleckner expects that wheat will have its time of adoption in the next few years. And it's not as though the farmers, for example in the Dakotas, that are against biotechnology. Many are switching from wheat and growing corn and soybean biotech varieties.

Facts on biotechnology

  • Included in the one billion biotech acres figure are 2 million acres of crops such as papaya, squash, and potatoes, and 61.7 million acres of canola. It also includes 113.9 million acres of cotton, 247 million acres of corn and 575.4 million acres of soybeans.
  • Globally, 6% of canola, 11% of cotton, 23% of corn and 60% of soybeans are grown from biotech-enhanced seedstock.
  • In 2004, while 59% of all biotech-enhanced crops were planted in the U.S., the other 41% of biotech crops were planted in the countries of Argentina, Canada, Brazil, China, Paraguay, India, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia, Romania, Mexico, Spain and the Philippines. Last year, 50,000 or more hectares, that’s roughly equivalent to 123,000 or more acres, of biotech-enhanced crops were grown in each of these countries.
  • Crop biotechnology has increased net income for farmers by $1.9 billion due to reduced cost of production by $1.47 billion and increasing yields by 5.3 billion pounds, which has increased gross revenues by $409 million.
  • It is a misconception that plant biotechnology research is confined to private companies in rich countries. According to a new report, 63 developing countries are conducting plant biotech research across 57 different crops. There are real-world examples showing how biotechnology is helping people improve their diets and their incomes.
  • Over 70% of U.S. grocery items contain something derived from agriculture biotech commodities.