Thomas Jefferson once offered a good piece of advice: When angry, count to ten before you speak–and when very angry, count to a hundred.

If the Sage of Monticello were alive today, he might suggest to those anti-biotech activists that are still out there – before they hold another rally, perhaps they should do a bit of counting – all the way up to 1.2 billion.

That’s the number of acres of biotech crops that farmers have planted (rounded up, slightly)–and each one of these acres is helping to make the world healthier, better fed and more prosperous.

To celebrate this fact, we at Truth About Trade and Technology (TATT) are providing a visual reality-check regarding the global acceptance of agricultural biotechnology at BIO 2006 Chicago, the annual international meeting of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. It’s being held in Chicago from April 9 to 12. We’ve been counting all the way up to 1.2 billion (and still going like the energizer bunny!) You’ll see a real-time display that ticks off biotech acres as they are planted and harvested all over the world. The Biotech Acre Counters will greet conference attendees at the entrance to the Food & Agriculture Pavilion – dedicated to the proposition that modern science improves our food.

Inside the pavilion, the conference’s attendees will get a firsthand look at how biotechnology is utilized on farms around the globe. One of the main attractions will be the world’s largest indoor cornfield. In addition, farmers from around the world will be there, ready to talk about their own experiences with GM crops – telling each of us how they work and benefit everybody. They will hail from France, Portugal, India, the Philippines, South Africa, Romania, Brazil, Australia and Mexico. Some 18,000 people are expected to attend the conference, and if they stop by our pavilion they’ll see and hear firsthand that it’s possible to grow more food on less land and do so in a way that’s environmentally friendly.

If the TATT counter had existed a little more than ten years ago, it would have been set at zero: There were no acres of commercially available biotech plants anywhere. In the course of a decade, however, farmers have embraced this technology. Biotechnology has been proven to increase yields, lower costs, and reduce reliance on herbicides and pesticides. Last year we were able to celebrate a pair of important milestones: the tenth year of genetically improved crops as well as the planting and harvesting of the one-billionth acre. In 2005, 8.5 million farmers from 21 countries participated in the biotech revolution, and they planted approximately 222 million acres of GM crops.

The number of acres on which biotech crops are grown has been ‘double-digit up’ each year—from 2004 to 2005 the rate of growth was 11 percent. The number of farmers who take advantage of biotechnology also increases, especially because small-time farmers in the developing world want the benefits that biotechnology can give them. Some 90 percent of biotech farmers live in resource-poor areas. Over the next few years, we expect to see explosive growth as China and India become significant producers. If you think our counter is moving fast today, just wait and see what it looks like a few years from now!

By 2010, farmers are expected to grow 375 million acres of biotech crops each year. That will feed a lot of people–about 300 million, if we subscribe to the estimate that it takes 1.25 acres to feed a single person for an entire year. That’s roughly the population of the United States.

In recognition of how crucial biotechnology is becoming to the global food chain, we launched the TATT counter last year. Our methodology involves taking up-to-the-minute information on planting and harvesting as reported by government agencies as well as private market analysis. We adjust our estimates based on a variety of factors, including weather and consultations with USDA and industry officials. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit group that tracks biotech farming in the developing world, also provides crucial world-wide data.

“When angry, count four; when very angry, swear,” joked Mark Twain, building off Jefferson’s comment, more than a century ago. Here at Truth About Trade and Technology, we’re going to continue the “Count Up” well past 1.2 billion–and keep on cheering.

Dean Kleckner is an Iowa farmer and past president of the American Farm Bureau. He currently chairs Truth About Trade and Technology.