Study details economic benefits of GM crops

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 1, 2016 - A study by U.K.-based PG Economics finds that farmers around the world who use genetically modified (GM) seeds reaped economic benefits averaging more than $100 per hectare (about 2.5 acres) in 2014 while at the same time improving the environmental sustainability of their operations.

“Two-thirds of these benefits derive from higher yields and extra production, with farmers in developing countries seeing the highest gains,” said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics and co-author of the report. “The environment is also benefiting as farmers increasingly adopt conservation tillage practices, build their weed management practices around more benign herbicides and replace insecticide use with insect resistant GM crops.”

Worldwide economic benefits of GM crops have reached $150 billion, according to the report, “GM Crops: Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts 1996-2014.”

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Brian Baenig, executive vice president for food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), stated the report's findings regarding biotechnology's contributions to the environment are especially significant.

“Crop biotechnology has reduced pesticide use by almost 581 million kilograms. In addition, farmers are spending less time on the tractor, burning less fossil fuels which ultimately reduces carbon dioxide emissions,” Baenig said in a news release calling attention to the report. “Further, the switch to no-till cropping systems by farmers growing herbicide-tolerant crops have enhanced soil quality and have enabled farmers to switch to more benign herbicides to help control weeds.”

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"The PG Economics annual global impacts report quantifies the impact of agricultural biotechnology on the environment and on farmer incomes since biotech's commercialization in 1996,” Baenig said.

Among the report's key findings:

•Between 1996 and 2014, crop biotechnology was responsible for additional global production of 158.4 million metric tons of soybeans and 321.8 million tons of corn. The technology has also contributed an extra 24.7 million tons of cotton lint and 9.2 million tons of canola.

•GM technology has had a significant positive impact on farm income derived from a combination of enhanced productivity and efficiency gains. In 2014, the direct global farm income benefit from GM crops was $17.7 billion. This is equivalent to having added 7.2 percent to the value of global production of the four main crops of soybeans, maize, canola and cotton. Since 1996, farm incomes have increased by $150.3 billion, divided almost equally between farmers in developing and developed countries.

•The insect resistant (IR) technology used in cotton and corn has consistently delivered yield gains from reduced pest damage. The average yield gains over the 1996-2014 period across all users of this technology has been +13.1 percent for insect resistant corn and +17.3 percent for insect resistant cotton relative to conventional production systems. 2014 was also the second year IR soybeans were grown commercially in South America, where farmers have seen an average of +9.4 percent yield improvements.

•The herbicide tolerant (HT) technology used has also contributed to increased production; improving weed control and providing higher yields in some countries and helping farmers in Argentina grow “second crop” soybeans after wheat in the same growing season.

•The highest yield gains were obtained by farmers in developing countries, many of which are resource-poor and farm small plots of land.

•Crop biotechnology continues to be a good investment for farmers around the world. The cost farmers paid for accessing crop biotechnology in 2014 ($6.9 billion payable to the seed supply chain) was equal to 28 percent of the total gains ($24.6 billion). Globally, farmers received an average of $3.59 for each dollar invested in GM crop seeds.

•GM crops are allowing farmers to grow more without using additional land. If crop biotechnology had not been available to the (18 million) farmers using the technology in 2014, maintaining global production levels at the 2014 levels would have required additional plantings of 7.5 million hectares of soybeans, 8.9 million hectares of corn, 3.7 million of cotton and 0.6 million of canola. This total area requirement is equivalent to 12 percent of the arable land in the U.S., or 33 percent of the arable land in Brazil or 14 percent of the cropping area in China.

•Crop biotechnology has contributed to significantly reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. This results from less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage with GM crops. In 2014, this was equivalent to removing 22.4 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing 10 million cars from the road for one year;.

•Crop biotechnology has reduced pesticide spraying (1996-2014) by 581 million kg, or 8.2 percent. This is equal to the total amount of pesticide active ingredient applied to crops in China for more than a year. As a result, this has decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by 18.5  percent.

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