A certain breed of publicist believes that theres no such thing as a bad controversy. As long as people are talking about something–a celebrity, a TV show, a book–then the publicist can sit back and say, mission accomplished.

I wouldnt apply this standard to biotechnology in agriculture, but it sure does seem that in spite of all the controversy surrounding GM crops, theyre becoming incredibly popular.

In 2002, for the first time ever, more than half the worlds population–51 percent, to be precise–lived in a country where gene-altered crops are planted.

Some countries arent big participants in the biotech revolution–at least not yet. Indian farmers planted their first genetically-modified plants last year, and saw first hand, Bt cottons benefits when the non-Bt cotton failed due to bugs. The planets second-most populous country accounted for less than 1 percent of the worlds biotech acreage.

This will no doubt change, as a report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications makes clear. Adoption rates for transgenic crops during the period 1996 to 2001 are unprecedented and are the highest for any new technologies by agricultural industry standards, writes Chairman Clive James in his annual analysis.

Last year, in fact, marked the sixth straight year gene-altered crops have posted double-digit gains in total global acreage. As many as 6 million farmers in 16 countries planted 145 million acres of biotech crops, up from 5 million farmers in 13 countries planting 130 million acres in 2001.

This pace of progress may seem swift, but it doesnt surprise me at all. I started planting Roundup Ready soybeans in the mid-1990s, and Ive kept on planting them for one simple reason: They work. My fields are much cleaner and the task of managing them is much easier.

I remember when the Roundup Ready soybeans were first introduced. You could drive around fields near my home in northeast Iowa and tell which ones had Roundup, because they didnt have any weeds. Today almost all of the soybean fields you see are weed-free. Practically everyone uses Roundup technology. Thats because the technology works.

Its only a matter of time before farmers in other countries catch up. We already know that a 17th country will join the biotech club in 2003, because the government of the Philippines recently approved its first GM planting.

The problem confronting other nations has nothing to do with economics or science, because gene-altered crops are economically efficient and scientifically safe. Its all about politics, which means theres no reason to oppose biotech crops, except for irrational fears among a misinformed public and the protection of special interests.

Each is a significant hurdle, but also surmountable. Experience shows us that biotech crops boost yield, conserve biodiversity, and increase stability. Farmers in other countries will soon want these benefits for themselves, and so will people whove never heard the sound of a combine.

Nearly two-thirds of all gene-altered crops are grown in the United States, and almost one-quarter of them are grown in Argentina. Together, our two countries account for about 89 percent of the worlds GM-crop acreage. Canada accounts for about 6 percent and China for about 4 percent. Australia, Bulgaria, Colombia, Germany, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Romania, Spain, South Africa, and Uruguay split the (very small) remaining piece of the pie.

Yet the size of that pie is growing. Last years biotech harvest was valued at $4.25 billion, up from $3.8 billion the year before. It will soon pass the $5 billion mark, according to James, and continue moving upward.

I know Im going to keep using biotech crops on my farm. I started with soybeans and then added Bt corn to my fields. Both have improved my farm operation and life style.

Pretty soon, these amazing products and others like them will improve farm operations just about everywhere.