Farmers planting biotech crops may be breaking the law if a ban on the ballot in four California counties is approved this fall. Fortunately for the agriculture industry there is scientific information backing up the benefits biotechnology brings to the environment and growers.
A National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy study, "Impacts on U.S. Agriculture of Biotechnology-Derived Crops Planted in 2003-An Update of 11 Case Studies," released Wednesday highlights what is seen as " widespread economic and environmental benefits" from biotechnology, according to Sujatha Sankula, lead author of the study and a researcher with the center.
Compared with conventional crops, the study suggested that the six biotech crops â€” canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soybean and squash â€” increased grower incomes by an additional $1.9 billion, boosted crop yields by 5.3 billion pounds and reduced pesticide use by 46.4 million pounds in 2003.
Sankula says one of the most tangible benefits is improved net returns as a result of reduced need for pesticide applications. It is also more environmentally friendly with herbicide-resistance crops controlling weeds without relying on tillage. Tilling the ground less also preserves carbon credits and doesn't release that carbon into the atmosphere, which adds to global warming.
The growers who received the greatest economic gains from biotech crops in 2003 were in the principal corn- and soybean-growing states of the Upper Midwest: Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. But there were economic benefits in all 42 states where the six biotech crops (11 different varieties) were grown.
The study updates and reinforces the findings of a June 2002 study that focused on the same six crops (eight different varieties). That analysis of crops planted in 2001 was one of the first comprehensive studies to document the impacts of biotech crops. Compared with 2001, biotech varieties increased grower income by 27%, boosted yields by 41% and reduced production costs by 25%.
Sankula says soybean growers saw the greatest reduction in pesticide use, putting a total of total of $1.2 billion back in the pockets of producers. Biotech corn (especially corn-borer resistant) produced the highest yield gains, 4.9 billion pounds, and adding $258.4 million to farmers' income.