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Ag’s Environmental Progress is Facilitated by Biotech Crops

March 19, 2010
A recent report released by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) examines the impact of biotechnology on the ability of farmers to improve their environmental performance.

According to the CTIC, farmers will need to feed 9 billion people by 2040 with a shrinking base of soil, air, and quality water resources. The CTIC, which began in the mid-1980’s as a resource for farmers to learn about crop production with no-till and reduced tillage, has become an advocate for biotechnology to assist in achieving its goals of conservation farming and environmental sustainability.

The CTIC calculates that it will take an additional 168 million acres of soybeans to meet the global food demand by 2030 if current yields are used. Biotechnology will allow yields to double, and in doing so, the global demand could be met with today’s acreage.

Since Roundup Ready beans were initially planted in 1996, there has been a $44 billion global benefit from biotech crops. In just 2007, U.S. farmers who were planting genetically engineered plants used over 47 million fewer pounds of herbicides and nearly 9 million fewer pounds of insecticides.

Interestingly, this trend in modern agricultural production parallels another trend that shows expansion of conservation tillage. The CTIC statistical survey shows a 69 percent increase in no-till soybean acreage between 1995 and 2008. That means about one-third of U.S. soybeans are grown in no-till fields. The vast majority of the rest are produced under other conservation tillage practices. That trend points to a substantial reduction in loss of soil and a substantial increase in atmospheric carbon being removed from the air and sequestered in the soil. 

Stu Ellis is a noted agriculture expert and blogger.  In the Decatur Illinois Herald-Tribune, Ellis commends biotech’s contribution to no-till agriculture:  
Such a development seems to have more practicality than the current EPA plan to convert 19 million acres of Cornbelt farmland to timber to achieve the same results. In fact, the combination of biotechnology and conservation tillage may be more 'environmentally sustainable' than any climate change policy the EPA might want to propose.”