The Truth about Trade
Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.
Three Billion Acres of GM Crops and Counting!
Nov 03, 2011
By Richard Dijkstra: Ponta Grossa, Parana, Brazil
As winter approaches in the United States and the rest of the northern hemisphere, here in the southern hemisphere it’s springtime. That means we’ve started planting. And sometime on Friday, November 4, a farmer will put a seed in the ground and make agricultural history: He (or she) will plant the world’s 3 billionth acre of GM crops.
We don’t know exactly where it will happen, so there won’t be any fireworks or parades. It could be in my country of Brazil. It will almost certainly be in South America where an early planting season is now underway. We’re confident about the timing because Truth about Trade & Technology, an American non-profit group, has kept track of the world’s biotech-crop acreage for years, based on official reports from governments around the world.
All this counting up has produced a very, very large number.
How big is 3 billion acres? It’s bigger than the Amazon rainforest. It’s bigger than all of Brazil. It’s big enough to say with absolute certainty that biotechnology is now a thoroughly conventional variety of agriculture.
Farmers are switching to GM crops because they make so much sense. Yields rise. Costs fall. Genetically-enhanced crops are better for the environment because they promote no-till approaches that conserve soil. They also reduce the pressure to convert wilderness into farmland.
They fight world hunger as well. A new study from Graham Brookes of PG Economics shows that biotechnology has increased global farm production dramatically. Soybean harvests are 83 million tons greater than they would be without genetic modification. Corn harvests are up even more, by 130 million tons.
Without biotechnology, we wouldn’t be able to come anywhere close to supplying the world’s demand for food.
On my farm, we started planting GM crops in 2003, as soon as biotech soybeans became available in Brazil. We added corn in 2008. These were easy decisions and my only wish is that they had become available even sooner.
Now biotechnology is here to stay and it’s getting even better.
A new development holds great promise both for Brazil’s small farmers and its malnourished people. One of my country’s favorite national dishes is rice and beans. Low-income consumers depend on it as a staple food and small farmers depend on it because their livelihood comes from growing the ingredients.
Yet a deadly parasite makes the work difficult. In Brazil, white flies attack our beans, spreading the golden mosaic virus, which can devastate whole fields of crops.
Advances in biotechnology now offer a solution. Brazilian farmers will have the opportunity to grow beans that are genetically modified to resist the disease, giving them the strength they need to fight off the threat. The health of farmers will improve, too. Until recently, their most effective tool for crop protection had been weekly applications of insecticide. With this new technology, that is not necessary any more.
The vast majority of biotech farmers are in fact small farmers who only work a few acres at a time. Many are women. GM crops would not have approached 3 billion acres this year without their enthusiasm for biotechnology and what it can do.
Soon, biotechnology will deliver yet another benefit, as we grow biofortified crops. These will deliver more proteins and vitamins for consumers, attacking the problem of malnourishment.
This is an important development. For years, the advocates of biotechnology have argued—correctly—the GM crops are no different from non-GM crops. When you cook them into food, not even scientists can tell the difference. Soon, however, we’ll be able to say that there is a difference. We’ll boast that biotech is better for you.
There’s only one group that doesn’t benefit from this trend: the enemies of biotechnology. They continue to haul out their exhausted, unproven complaints about GM crops, but with every new acre planted and harvested, their position becomes more unsustainable.
We often talk about biotechnology as a part of our future, but let’s also recognize that it has become an indelible feature of our present because 3 billion acres of it are now a part of our past.
Richard Franke Dijkstra farms with his family in Ponta Grossa, Parana, in southern Brazil. They grow soybeans, edible beans, corn, wheat, barley, ray grass and black oats - 50% of the soybeans and corn they plant is GM and 100% of their farming operation is no-tillage. Richard and his brother-in-law also operate a 480 cow dairy and raise 4000 hogs annually. Richard is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network.