U.S. farmers who planted bio-engineered corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops in 2003 boosted their annual income by nearly $2 billion in total, thanks to reduced pesticide use and higher yields. Thatâ€™s according to the National Center for Food and Agricultural policy, a private research group which supports greater use of biotechnology.
In Iowa, the economic gain was $239 million. Iowa farmers reduced pesticide use by 7.4 million pounds annually by planting biotech varieties of corn and soybeans.
In a report issued October 20, 2004, the center estimated that gene-altered crops cut U.S. farmersâ€™ production costs by $1.5 billion in 2003. Most of that was due to a decline in pesticide use of 46.4 million pounds.
In its report, the center reviewed six biotech crops; corn, canola, cotton, soybeans, papaya, and squash grown in the U.S. last year. The study updates and reinforces findings of a June 2002 study. Overall, total acres of biotechnology-derived crops in 2003 increased to 106 million acres from 80 million acres in 2001.
Biotech crops are having a big impact
"Plant biotechnology continues to produce real gains for growers and promotes sustainable agriculture in the United States," says Sujatha Sankula, the lead author of the study. Gene-spliced crops are "creating widespread economic and environmental benefits."
Critics of biotech crops worry that farmers will eventually be forced to apply increasing amounts of chemicals as weeds become harder to control. Some farmers say they are finding more weed resistance to Roundup and other glyphosate herbicide products, which are widely used in U.S. crop production.
Questions are also being raised over the cost of biotech seeds and the long-term impact that genetically modified crops may have on public health and the environment.
Margaret Mellon, an expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says this latest report focuses on the benefits of the technology without considering volatile global market factors and their impact on crop prices. "There are benefits in this technology to some farmers," she acknowledges. "But Iâ€™m skeptical that efforts like this recently released report seem to be more promotional than scientific analysis."
The report estimates that nearly half of the 5.34 billion pounds in additional production of biotech crops in 2003 was from varieties such as Bt corn and Bt cotton, which contain a gene from a soil bacterium that repels pests like European corn borer.