Sometimes a report that confirms the obvious is still worthwhile news. Such are the estimates from the International Society for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) that farmers around the world planted 222 million acres of biotech crops in 2005, an 11 percent increase from the 200 million acres planted in 2004 and the ninth consecutive year of double digit growth rates. The growth rate in plantings for 2005 was 23 percent in developing countries and 5 percent in developed countries, with developing countries accounting for 38 percent of the biotech acres planted. Total acres planted to biotech crops in the ten years of commercial production is estimated at 1.17 billion acres.
The ISAAA is a not-for-profit organization that works to help make biotech crops available in developing countries. Its hands on knowledge of biotech crop plantings around the world and ability to collect and summarize the information has made the ISAAA biotech acreage estimates the “gold standard” data used by other analysts.
The number of countries growing biotech crops increased from 17 in 2004 to 21 in 2005. Three of the additional countries were in the EU, and all grew biotech corn. The Czech Republic grew biotech corn for the first time, and Portugal and France grew biotech crops after five year and four year breaks.
Iran was the other newcomer and grew biotech rice. An estimated 10,000 acres were grown by several hundred farmers to produce seed for further commercialization on 25,000 to 50,000 acres in 2006. The biotech rice was officially released in 2004 and grown on about 5,000 acres. Iran grows about 1.5 million acres of rice and also imports over one million tons of rice per year. The biotech rice was developed at the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute at Karaj, Iran. Work on biotech crops is occurring at 23 institutions in Iran with about 140 researchers, with field trials on virus resistant sugar beets and herbicide tolerant canola. China was expected to be the first to commercialize biotech rice. They have completed field trials and are awaiting the political decision making process.
The largest increase in biotech crop acreage occurred in Brazil with a 10.9 million acre increase to a provisional estimate of 23.2 million acres (the planting season has just ended in Brazil). This increase was largely due to a new regulatory system that was put in place in early 2005. All of the acreage was soybeans, but corn and cotton may be planted in 2006.
India had the largest percentage increase going from 1.2 million acres of cotton planted in 2004 to 3.2 million acres in 2005, a 167 percent increase. This came despite an intensive campaign by biotech opponents to discredit biotech cotton production after rapid acreage expansion in 2004.
The addition of three EU countries brings the EU country total to five; Spain, Germany, Portugal, France and the Czech Republic. Spain is the only commercial corn producer at 250,000 acres per year. Germany has grown biotech corn on a small scale for several years. That may change in 2006 because the new coalition government is friendly to biotech crops and has recently approved thee new corn types. Portugal planted 2000 acres, France 1200 acres and the Czech Republic 400 acres. All five have substantial opportunities to increase acreage if coexistence rules are manageable.
The ISAAA divided the 21 countries with biotech crop production into 11 developing countries and 10 developed countries. The developing countries grew 84 million acres of biotech crops, and the developed countries grew 138 million acres. The crops were grown by approximately 8.5 million farmers, 90 percent of which were resource-poor farmers in developing countries where increased incomes directly translate into a reduction in poverty.
Another way to analyze the ISAAA data is by style of farming. Extensive agriculture occurs in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Australia. These seven countries planted 208.7 million acres of biotech crops in 2005, 94.1 percent of the total. The second is EU style were farms are somewhat smaller, but the biggest differences are the amount of regulations and consumer skepticism of biotech crops. These countries include Spain, Germany, Portugal, France, the Czech Republic and Romania with about 350,000 acres of biotech crops in 2005. The third style is small-scale farming in countries that need to increase production to improve incomes in rural areas and supply a growing urban population. These countries include China, India, South Africa, Mexico, Philippines, Columbia, Honduras and Iran with total acreage of 13.2 million, 5.9 percent of the total. Note that these countries are spread throughout the world.
Biotech crops have taken hold in the extensive agriculture countries as would be expected because they have a history of using new technology that increases yields and/or reduces costs. Biotech crops are accepted by farmers in the EU style countries when the regulatory process gives them a chance.
The regulatory process is giving farmers in the small-scale countries an opportunity to use biotech crops, and they are responding as in India in 2005. Cotton accounts for about 85 percent of the biotech crops in the small-scale agriculture countries. The Philippines and South Africa are the leaders in biotech corn production. The decision by Iran to commercialize biotech rice is the latest advance in the use of biotech crops for food consumption. Other countries with small-scale agriculture have completed years of research on biotech food crops and may be on next year’s list of countries new to commercial biotech crop production.