Use of Biotech Crops Increases Farmer Profits and Environmental Sustainability

Study shows biotech crops increase farmers&rsquo; yields and incomes, with less pesticide use and lower greenhouse gas emissions.</p>

CHICAGO (April 23, 2013) – Biotechnology-improved crops have delivered important economic and environmental benefits over their sixteen years of widespread adoption, according to a report released today at the BIO International Convention. The report, “Global Impact of Biotech Crops: Economic & Environmental Effects 1996-2011,” is the eighth annual research conducted by PG Economics, an agriculture research firm based in the United Kingdom.

“Biotech crops have enabled farmers around the world to increase their incomes and yields while using less pesticides and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions,” said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics and co-author of the report. “Further, the research shows that an increasing majority of these benefits go to farmers in developing countries.” 

InfographicDr. Cathleen Enright, executive vice president for food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), points out that the report’s findings regarding biotechnology’s contributions to the environment are equally significant.

“The increased use of genetically-engineered crops has reduced the use of chemical insecticides, so farmers growing these crops have switched to more benign herbicides to help control weeds,” says Enright. “In addition, 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 PG Economics annual Global Impacts report quantifies the effect of genetically-engineered crops on the environment and on farmer incomes since their commercialization in 1996. Key findings include:

•       The net economic benefit at the farm level in 2011 was $19.8 billion, equal to an average increase in income of $133/hectare. For the 16 year period (1996-2011), the global farm income gain has been $98.2 billion;

•       Of the total farm income benefit, 49% ($48 billion) has been due to yield gains resulting from lower pest and weed pressure and improved genetics, with the balance arising from reductions in the cost of production; 

•       The insect resistant (IR) technology used in cotton and corn has consistently delivered yield gains from reduced pest damage. The average yield gains over the 1996-2011 period across all users of this technology has been +10.1% for insect resistant corn and +15.8% for insect resistant cotton;

•       A majority (51%) of the 2011 farm income gains went to farmers in developing countries, 90% of which are resource poor and small farms. Cumulatively (1996-2011), about 50% of the benefit each went to farmers in developing and developed countries;

•       The cost farmers paid for accessing crop biotechnology in 2011 was equal to 21% of the total technology gains (a total of $24.2 billion inclusive of farm income gains ($19.8 billion) plus cost of the technology payable to the seed supply chain ($5.4 billion[1][2]));

•       For farmers in developing countries the total cost of accessing the technology in 2011 was equal to 14% of total technology gains, whilst for farmers in developed countries the cost was 28% of the total technology gains. The higher share of total technology gains accounted for by farm income gains in developing countries relative to the farm income share in developed countries mainly reflects weaker provision and enforcement of intellectual property rights coupled with higher average levels of benefits in developing countries;

•       Between 1996 and 2011, crop biotechnology was responsible for an additional 110 million tonnes of soybeans and 195 million tonnes of corn. The technology has also contributed an extra 15.8 million tonnes of cotton lint and 6.6 million tonnes of canola; 

•       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 5.4 million ha of soybeans, 6.6 million ha of corn, 3.3 million ha of cotton and 0.2 million ha of canola. This total area requirement is equivalent to 9% of the arable land in the US, 25% of the arable land in Brazil or 28% of the cereal area in the EU (27);

•       Crop biotechnology has contributed to significantly reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. This results from less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage with GM 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%). This is equal to the total amount of pesticide active ingredient applied to arable crops in the EU 27 for one and three-quarter crop years. As a result, this has decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by 18.1%[3]; and 

•       The environmental gains from the GM IR traits have mostly derived from decreased use of insecticides, whilst the gains from GM HT traits have come from a combination of use of more environmentally benign products and facilitation of changes in farming systems away from conventional to reduced and no tillage production systems in both North and South America. This change in production system has reduced levels of GHG emissions from reduced tractor fuel use and additional soil carbon storage.


*For interviews with Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics and co-author of the report, contact Karen Batra at BIO (

**To download the full report, GM Crops:  Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts 1996-2011, visit


[1]The cost of the technology accrues to the seed supply chain including sellers of seed to farmers, seed multipliers, plant breeders, distributors and the GM technology providers
[2]A typical ‘equivalent’ cost of technology share for non GM forms of production (eg, for new seed or forms of crop protection) is 30%-40%
[3]As measured by the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) indicator (developed at Cornell University)