Spread of genetically modified crop continues at staggering rate
When biotech crops hit farmland in 1996, even the most ardent supporters weren’t predicting the genetically modified (GM) crop blanket to come. Eighteen years later, the numbers detailed an astonishing success story when the 4-billion-acre mark was clipped on May 3, 2014, according to Truth About Trade & Technology’s (TATT) Biotech Counter.
The biotech crop leap is colossal in terms of yield and pest resistance as well as improving overall production, food safety, groundwater quality, fuel use, carbon emissions and chemical applications—virtually all aspects of modern agriculture.
“Thinking of the massive biotech jump and placing it in context is difficult, but it might be compared with the invention of the phone with cellular technology,” says Daniel Kelley, Illinois producer and TATT board member. “We’ve taken the cord off the phone and made it mobile across the globe. It’s the same situation with crop development over the past 18 years.”
Undeniable benefits pushed biotech’s spread across agriculture, says Chet Esther, Frederick, Ill., farmer and Growmark board member. “Nobody predicted such high biotech acreage in less than 20 years, but when farmers started planting biotech crops and could see the immediate effects, acreage climbed at a quick rate.”
The drive to boost yield to keep pace with global population growth inevitably involves increased food production. With many estimates placing world population at 9.6 billion by 2050, Kelley believes the required yield jump can only be achieved by planting more biotech crops or more conventional acres. Additional conventional crop acreage requires vast amounts of land, and each part of the world has unique problems associated with increasing crop acreage. Biotech technologies allow farmers to use the same or less acreage for greater yields.
Agriculture has used a fraction of the GM options that will eventually be accessible by farmers. After nearly 20 years, the biotech industry has incorporated resistance to pests and disease, increased yield with better root systems and reduced pesticide use. Now, agriculture is seeing the vast potential of incorporating nutrient qualities into crops that not only improve quality but also prevent human diseases.
Kelley believes the recent European Union legislative effort to allow greater GM crop freedoms in member countries is indicative of changing perceptions. “Europeans can’t ignore the benefits of GMO crops as they watch American growers carry a yield and economic advantage,” he says. “Regulators and legislators have been listening to farmers as they point to science to support the case for biotech, and
attitudes have changed over time.”
The 4-billion-acre biotech mark in the U.S. is a staggering number. To put it in perspective, South America is a continent with more than 4 billion acres. “People need to realize if we didn’t have biotech crops, our yields would drop immediately, and we’d be back to using far more pesticides and herbicides,” Esther warns. “We’ve got to value biotech crops and make sure we don’t lose them.”