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Biotech crops are majority of corn, soybean acres

Aug. 1, 2013 | 0 comments

Some consumers and governments - notably the European Union - continue to raise concerns about genetically engineered crops, but new numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that farmers continue to adopt these crops at high rates.

The new data shows that U.S. farmers have now planted more than 90 percent of their acreage to genetically modified corn, soybeans and cotton.

In Wisconsin this year, farmers planted 89 percent of their soybean acres to a biotech variety, and 84 percent of the corn planted is a genetically modified variety, according to Greg Bussler, the state statistician with the Wisconsin field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS.)

The July update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's NASS found that 90 percent of the U.S. corn was planted to a biotech variety and 71 percent of all corn planted was a variety with "stacked" genes, meaning they are genetically engineered to withstand certain herbicides and also resist certain pests.

The July USDA report tracks the adoption of genetically engineered varieties by farmers since they were commercially introduced in 1996.

Soybeans led the way. Soybean varieties engineered to be tolerant to a specific herbicide were planted on 17 percent of U.S. soybean acres in 1997. That number had jumped to 68 percent in 2001 and 93 percent this year.

Insect resistance in corn and cotton varieties has been commercially available since 1996 as well. Corn engineered with the Bt gene was planted on 8 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 1997 and jumped to 26 percent in 1999 then fell to 19 percent in 2000 and 2001 before climbing to 29 percent in 2003 and 76 percent in 2013.

The report noted that the use of this kind of corn variety will continue to fluctuate based on perceived thresholds and threats from insects that plague corn.

The higher acreage share in recent years may be due to commercial introduction of new Bt corn varieties that are resistant to the corn rootworm and corn earworm in addition to the European corn borer, which was previously the only pest targeted by the Bt corn varieties.

Adoption of so-called "stacked" gene varieties of corn has accelerated in recent years with varieties that contain genes making them resistant to insects and resistant to certain herbicides. These stacked corn varieties made up 71 percent of corn acreage this year.

To see the USDA report, go to the website: http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-us/recent-trends-in-ge-adoption.aspx.


The USDA doesn't collect information on global adoption rates for genetically engineered crops but pointed to estimates from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

That group said that globally farmers in developing countries grew 52 percent of the world's biotech crops in 2012, leaving 48 percent of total world production in industrialized countries.

Global implementation by farmers has grown from 1.7 milliion hectares in 1996 to over 170 million hectares in 2012. The group said biotech crops are grown in 28 countries - 20 of which were called "developing" and eight were "industrial."

As of 2012 there were reportedly 17.3 million farmers growing biotech crops and 90 percent of them were "small, resource-poor" farmers in developing countries.

The United States continued to lead the world in planting of biotech crops, followed by Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India.

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