Insect-Resistant Crops Produce Greatest Biotech Yield Increase

National Center of Food and Agricultural Policy finds while insect-resistant traits increased production, herbicide-resistant varieties generated the greatest reduction in production costs. Compiled by staff

Published on: Dec 9, 2005

As a result of increasing benefits from biotech crop varieties, farmers are adopting the technology with greater ease than ever before, according to a new study update released by the National Center of Food and Agricultural Policy.

In 2004, U.S. farmers planted biotech crops on 118 million acres, an increase of 11% over the previous year. Compared to conventional crops, biotech varieties increased food production by 6.6 billion pounds, a 24% improvement from 2003, and provided $2.3 billion in additional net returns for U.S. growers, a 21% increase from the previous year. Biotech crops also reduced pesticide use by an additional 34%, or 15.6 million pounds. Pesticide use dropped by 15.6 million from 2003 to 2004.

The study examined 11 case studies of six biotech crops planted in the United States in 2004 — corn, soybean, cotton, papaya, canola and squash — and is based on data from the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service and surveys of crop specialists from various universities.

According to the study, insect-resistant crops again produced the greatest yield increase among the crops studied, improving food and fiber production by 6.5 billion pounds. While insect-resistant traits increased production, herbicide-resistant varieties generated the greatest reduction in production costs by reducing the amount of pesticide needed and lowering costs associated with hand weeding and mechanical cultivation. Herbicide-resistant varieties cut costs by $1.8 billion and reduced pesticide use by 55.5 million pounds.

Regionally, Midwestern states of Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota experienced the greatest benefits from biotech crops. Iowa farmers experienced the largest increase in farm income ($266 million) and the greatest reduction in pesticides (9.1 million pounds annually).

While the economic and production benefits have been significant, biotech crops also make growers confident that they can control weeds while reducing the need to plow the land. Farmers who practice "no-till" farming leave their soil undisturbed, thereby reducing soil erosion and pesticide runoff. No-till cotton acreage increased in the United States by 371% in 2004, while soybean and corn no-till acres increased by 64 and 20%, respectively.

"Farmers want to be good stewards of the land because it is the source of their livelihood," says Sujatha Sankula, lead author of the study. "Biotech crops have helped them make great strides and adopt conservation tillage practices, which not only reduces erosion but also decreases greenhouse gas emissions that result from cultivating the soil."

The study is an annual update of a 2002 report by NCFAP that analyzes, quantifies and documents the agronomic, economic and environmental impacts of biotech crops on U.S. agriculture. The complete study, "Biotechnology-Derived Crops Planted in 2004 — Impacts on U.S. Agriculture," is available on the Internet at www.ncfap.org.