In its 2006 update report, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) reported that the world is now home to more than 10 million farmers who plant biotech crops. We passed the 10-million milestone when the ranks of biotech farmers swelled from 8.5 million to 10.3 million last year.
That’s an increase of more than 21 percent–and further evidence that genetically modified crops are one of the most rapidly adopted technologies ever introduced to agriculture.
This new benchmark comes on the heels of another significant achievement two years ago, when farmers planted and harvested the one-billionth acre of biotech crops.
There’s a simple reason for this rapid success: Biotech crops are providing a positive economic impact for the farmer and the consumer while helping us protect our environment. If they were anything else, farmers like me around the world wouldn’t be racing to take advantage of them.
That’s certainly why I use them. Although I’ve planted biotech crops ever since they became commercially available about a decade ago, this year will be the first season in which virtually all of the corn and soybeans that I grow will be genetically improved.
The seeds aren’t cheap. They’re more expensive than conventional varieties, but they’re worth it. Even with the added cost, the price of growing my crops actually shrinks and the size of my yield expands. Biotech enhancements can be worth 50 bushels of corn per acre. That’s a substantial boost, considering that a good yield for an acre of corn in my area is a bit more than 200 bushels.
In a study released last week, ISAAA reported that farmers planted more than 102 million hectares of biotech crops in 2006. (A hectare is 10,000 square meters–a little less than 2.5 acres.)
In other words, if all of the world’s biotech crops were planted in conjoining plots, they would have covered an area approximately the size of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. That’s an increase of 13 percent over 2005. Assuming this acreage increases by 13 percent this year, they’ll cover an area roughly equal to those three states plus Louisiana.
Although most of the world’s biotech crops are currently planted in the United States and Argentina, farmers all over the world are scrambling to go biotech. “More than 90 percent or 9.3 million farmers growing biotech crops last year were small, resource-poor farmers in the developing world, allowing biotechnology to make a modest contribution to the alleviation of their poverty,” says Clive James of the ISAAA.
By 2015, predicts James, more than 20 million farmers will plant 200 million hectares of biotech crops. These numbers will soar even higher when biotech rice becomes a commercial product and Asian farmers adopt it. If that happens, I won’t be one in 10 million or 20 million–I might easily be one in 80 million.
The ISAAA’s annual report is published each January. Because it’s so influential, anti-biotech groups use its release as an occasion to go on the attack. The Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth International, for example, claims that biotech crops are a massive failure.
“No GM crop on the market today offers benefits to the consumer in terms of quality or price, and to date these crops have done nothing to alleviate hunger or poverty in Africa or elsewhere,” says one of their spokesmen, who also claims that yields are better for conventional crops.
This just isn’t true– the ISAAA numbers prove it—-and so do the numbers on my farm. Why would more than 10 million farmers around the world, including subsistence growers in developing nations, seek out a more expensive technology if the end result was so disappointing?
It just doesn’t make sense. But does anybody seriously believe that professional activists who specialize in faxing press releases have a better knowledge of bean fields than those of us who have spent so much time walking them?
The chances of getting an honest person to believe that are, oh, about one in 10 million.
John Reifsteck, a corn and soybean farmer in western Champaign County Illinois, is a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).