WASHINGTON, April 14, 2016 - The amount of land planted to genetically engineered crops fell last year for the first time ever, as slumping prices for corn and cotton encouraged U.S. farmers to plant alternative, non-biotech crops such as sorghum, according to an annual global survey.

Farmers worldwide planted 444 million acres in 2015, a 1 percent drop from the peak of 448.5 million acres in 2014, says the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). It was the first decline since 1996.

Plantings in the United States, which accounted for 39 percent of global biotech plantings, fell by 5.4 million acres, more than offsetting the 5-million-acre increase in No. 2 Brazil, which had 25 percent of total biotech acreage last year. Acreage in No. 3 Argentina was up slightly to 60.5 million.

Total biotech acreage worldwide was off 4 percent for corn and 5 percent for cotton, the report said. “Year-to-year biotech crop (planted area) decreases, driven by low prices in 2015, are likely to reverse when crop prices revert to higher levels in the future,” the report said.

But ISAAA also cautioned that the high biotech adoption rates for corn and soybeans “leave little room for expansion in mature markets” for those commodities. Soybeans accounted for half the global biotech acreage last year.

In India, which ranks fourth in biotech acreage because of the popularity of pest-resistant cotton, planted area remained stable at 28.7 million acres. India is now the leading cotton producer in the world. The Bt cotton is grown by 7.7 million small farmers, according to ISAAA.

Biotech acreage in No. 5 Canada fell by 5 percent, largely because of a million-acre drop in canola plantings. Plantings in China, primarily cotton, fell from about 9.6 million acres in 2014 to 9.1 million last year.

Some of the most interesting developments in biotechnology are occurring outside the United States and in some of the poorest countries. In Bangladesh, for example, farmers doubled the commercial acreage of a pest-resistant eggplant, known as brinjal. Some 250 small farmers grew the crop last year on 62 acres, compared to fewer than 30 acres in 2014. Additional seed will be available to “substantially more farmers in 2016,” the report said.  

Two home-grown crop traits were approved last year in Argentina, a drought-tolerant soybean and virus-resistant potato. Brazil OK’d a home-produced eucalyptus that is supposed to increase yields by 20 percent.

Cuba has planted biotech corn for the last two years and will resume in two years’ time when improved hybrids are available.

Back in the United States, farmers planted 2 million acres of Monsanto’s DroughtGard drought-tolerant maize, which was first seeded commercially on 123,000 acres in 2013. South Africa, which ranked ninth in biotech acreage last year with 5.7 million, approved DroughtGard last year. It is expected to be grown commercially for the first time next year.


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