Environmental Protection & Preservation
Biotech Crops Help World's Farmers 'Go Green'
Biotech crops have produced a decade of improvements in yield and net farm income for grain,
oilseed and cotton farmers. Now, according to a peer-reviewed study on the
crops' global economic and environmental impact, the benefits are "clear"
-- especially reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
In 2005, herbicide-tolerant biotech crops planted using conservation
tillage practices helped to retain carbon in the soil. Insect-resistant
crops dramatically reduced the need for spraying, while also significantly
reducing farm fuel usage. All told, biotech crops, planted during their
10th year of use on 87 million hectares (215 million acres) by 8.5 million
farmers, reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 9 billion kg. (8.9 million
tons). That's the equivalent to removing nearly 4 million family cars from
the road for an entire year, according to study author Graham Brookes,
director of PG Economics Limited of Dorchester, United Kingdom.
Biotech Crops and the Green Era
"Simply put, biotech crops have changed the way people farm," Brookes
said. "Their environmental performance during the first decade of use shows
the important role the technology is playing both now and in the future in
helping global agriculture reduce its greenhouse gas emissions."
According to Brookes, countries such as the United States, Canada and
Argentina have led the way toward these environmental benefits by utilizing
herbicide-tolerant crops to switch to no- and low-till crop production.
There and elsewhere, insect-resistant biotech crops also have reduced
sprayings. It all adds up to less tillage and reduced field operations, he
Brookes' study estimates that since their commercialization in 1996,
biotech crops have saved farmers 1,679 million liters (441 million gallons)
of fuel through reduced field operations -- eliminating 4,613 million kg.
of carbon dioxide emissions.
Disturbing the soil with conventional tillage releases carbon dioxide
into the atmosphere. No- and low-tillage cropping systems that use biotech
herbicide-tolerant varieties, Brookes said, leave more plant residue on the
soil's surface, sequestering the carbon and contributing to soil and water
In Argentina alone, the study estimates that herbicide-tolerant
varieties helped to increase no-till soybean plantings by 157 percent, from
5.9 million hectares in 1996 to 15.2 million hectares in 2005 -- reducing
carbon dioxide emissions by 20,988 million kg.
Worldwide, use of biotech crops decreased the environmental impact of
crop production associated with pesticide use by more than 15 percent as
calculated using Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) methodology, according
to the study. Since 1996, herbicide tolerant and insect-resistant biotech
crops reduced pesticide sprayings by 224 million kg. (500 million pounds)
of active ingredient -- a 6.9 percent reduction worldwide. That reduction
is equivalent to about 35 percent of the annual volume of active ingredient applied
to arable crops in the European Union.
$5 Billion Benefit to 2005 Net Farm Income
According to Brookes' estimates, biotech crops contributed $5 billion
in net farm-level economic benefit to farmers -- or $5.6 billion if the
additional income arising from a second crop of soybean in Argentina is
Combining biotech insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant traits in
corn has boosted farm income by more than $3.1 billion since the traits'
introductions, Brookes noted.
The largest gains in farm income have come from biotech soybean and
largely from cost savings. In 2005, herbicide-tolerant soybean generated
$2.84 billion additional income -- adding about 7 percent to the value of
the crop in biotech soybean growing countries.
Brookes summarized that the economic and environmental benefits of
biotech crops are fairly evenly divided between farmers in developed and
developing countries. In 2005, farmers in developing countries captured 55
percent of the additional net farm income generated by biotech crops
globally. Over the 1996-2005 period, farmers in developing countries
accrued 48 percent of the environmental benefits, primarily from reduced
crop protection product usage.
The study's documentation of biotech crops' increased productivity and
reduced environmental impact comes at a good time. "We are constantly being
asked if North America can produce enough corn to meet food, fuel and
export needs," said U.S. Grains Council Chairman Vic Miller, an Iowa corn
producer. "The answer is yes, especially with the help of biotechnology.
This study goes a long way toward documenting the production increases
achieved with biotech crops. And greater yields mean more corn for ethanol,
which -- unlike fossil fuels -- removes carbon dioxide from the air each
time a new corn plant sprouts. Reduced environmental impact through biotech
crop use is becoming an important selling point as we communicate with our
grain trading partners."
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), more than half of the world's arable
land (776 million hectares/1.9 billion acres) lies in 22 countries now
approved for planting biotech crops. By 2015, ISAAA forecasts biotech crops
will be under cultivation in 40 countries with at least 20 million farmers
planting 200 million acres annually.
"Projecting forward, the environmental gains made possible with biotech
crops have the potential to compound quite dramatically as the technology
is available to more farmers worldwide. These are environmental benefits
that if overlooked in the past will not be in the future," Brookes
Brookes' study, "GM Crops: The First 10 Years -- Global Socio-economic
and Environmental Impacts," was commissioned by Monsanto and was published
in the Jan. 17, 2007 issue of AgBioFourm, a peer-reviewed journal on
economics and biotechnology. The complete study is available on the U.S.
Grains Council website, http://www.grains.org
, and the ISAAA website,
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