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U.S. Farmers Reap Biotech Benefits, Increase Proportion of Plantings

The Biotech Advantage 07/10/2002
Demand for genetically enhanced seed is expected to grow, according to the U.S. Agricultural Department, because farmers reap significant benefits in terms of increased profits as well as a reduction in their dependence on pesticides. "All in all, we conclude that there are tangible benefits to farmers adopting first-generation (genetically enhanced) crops," says a recent USDA study.
The use of biotech crops has grown rapidly since their introduction in 1996. This year, the USDA estimates that 75 percent of soybeans planted by U.S. farmers were genetically enhanced, up from 68 percent in 2001. Thirty-four percent of U.S. corn this year is genetically enhanced, up from 26 percent last year. Also, biotech cotton accounts for 71 percent of the total acreage planted, up from 69 percent.
The increase in biotech crops far exceeds any increase in overall crops. Corn plantings nationwide were up only 4 percent compared to last year, while soybeans actually were down 2 percent. Cotton plantings were also down this year by 9 percent.
According to the USDA study, biotech crops helped increase farm income by increasing yields. A 10 percent increase in the use of insect-resistant cotton translated to an increase in yield of between 1.7 and 2.1 percent. The same increase in herbicide-tolerant soybeans produced a .3 percent increase in yield. (No data was available for corn.)
The study also showed that genetically enhanced crops resulted in an overall reduction in pesticide use. "Farmland treated with pesticides decreased by 19.1 million acres between the 1997 and 1998 crops," the USDA report said. "The amount of pesticides used also declined by about 2.5 million pounds."
The study projects that the use of herbicide-tolerant crops will continue to grow, while the demand for insect-resistant seed might level off, limited mainly by the infestation levels of the targeted pests.
"USA: U.S. Farmers to Plant More Biotech Crops—USDA Study," Reuters