Farmers using improved seeds and biotech crop varieties continue to see significant economic and on-farm environmental benefits in their 16th year of widespread adoption, according to the eighth annual report on crop biotechnology impacts prepared by UK-based PG Economics.
According to Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics and co-author of the report, biotech crops have enabled farmers around the world to increase their incomes and yields while using less pesticides and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Also, an increasing majority of these benefits go to farmers in developing countries with 51 percent of the 2011 farm income gains going to farmers in developing countries, 90% of which are resource poor and small farms.
The report also showed substantial environmental benefits. Crop biotechnology had contributed to greatly reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. This results from less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage biotech crops. In 2011, the reduction in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was equivalent to taking 10.2 million cars off the road for one year.
The PG Economics annual crop biotechnology global impacts report quantifies the impact of agricultural biotechnology on the environment and on farmer incomes since biotech’s commercialization in 1996. Its goal is to give insights into the motivations behind why so many farmers around the globe have adopted crop biotechnology and continue to use it in their production systems since the technology first joined the widespread commercial market in the mid 1990s.
The report draws, and is largely based on, the considerable body of peer reviewed literature available that has examined the economic and other reasons behind farm level crop biotechnology adoption, together with the environmental impacts associated with the changes.
KEY FINDINGS OF THE REPORT
Biotech crops have contributed to significantly reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. This results from less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage with biotech crops.
In 2011, this was equivalent to removing 23 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing 10.2 million cars from the road for one year.
Crop biotechnology has reduced pesticide spraying (1996-2011) by 474 million kg (-9%). As a result, the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops decreased by 18.1 percent.
Farmers who use improved seeds and grow biotech crops have seen substantial net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $19.8 billion in 2011 and $98.2. billion for the 16 year (1996-2011) period.
Of the total farm income benefit, 49 percent ($48 billion) has been due to yield gains, with the balance arising from reductions in the cost of production.
A majority (51 percent) of the 2011 farmer income gains went to farmers in developing countries, 90 percent of which are resource poor and small farms.
Since 1996, biotech traits have added 110 million tonnes and 195 million tonnes respectively to global production of soybeans and corn. The technology has also contributed an extra 15.8 million tonnes of cotton lint and 6.6 million tonnes of canola.
During the 16-year period covered in this report, crop biotechnology has consistently provided important economic and production gains, improved incomes and reduced risk for farmers around the world that have grown GE crops.
The increased use of biotech crops has reduced the use of chemical insecticides, so farmers growing these crops have switched to more benign herbicides to help control weeds, benefitting the environment.
The shift to no till cropping systems has reduced on-farm fuel use, enhanced soil quality and significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
The majority of these benefits are found in developing countries.
If crop biotechnology had not been available to the (16.7 million) farmers using the technology in 2011, maintaining global production levels at the 2011 levels would have required additional plantings of 13.3 million acres of soybeans, 16.3 million acres of corn, 8.2 million acres of cotton and 0.5 million acres of canola. This total area requirement is equivalent to 9 percent of the arable land in the United States.
The advantages of advanced seed technology for farmers in developing countries come at a time when good availability is becoming more of an issue around the world. The population continues to grow, but for many farmers, their ability to produce food remains stuck in the past. In order to double food production by 2050 to meet demand, new seed technologies must be utilized.
Because biotech-enhanced plants have a built-in resistance to pests, growers are using fewer chemical sprays, which is better for the environment. Also, biotech crops thrive without the need for tilling the soil. This uses less fuel on the farm and allows carbon to remain in the soil, enhancing both air and soil quality.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To download the full report, GM Crops: Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts 1996-2011, visit www.pgeconomics.co.uk