Biotech Crops Benefit the Environment


Several new reports being issued today by the U.K.-based agriculture consultancy, PG Economics highlight the benefits of biotech crops to farmers, consumers and the natural environment. The press release accompanying the new studies notes:

Biotech crops have reduced pesticide spraying (1996-2008) by 352 million kg (-8.4%) and as a result decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by 16.3%;

Herbicide tolerant biotech crops have facilitated the adoption of no/reduced tillage production systems in many regions, especially South America.  This has made important contributions to reducing soil erosion and improving soil moisture levels;

There have been substantial net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $9.4 billion in 2008 and $52 billion for the thirteen year period.   The farm income gain in 2008 is equivalent to adding 3.65% to the value of global production of the four main biotech crops of soybeans, corn, canola and cotton;

Of the total farm income benefit, 50.5% ($26.25 billion) has been due to yield gains, with the balance arising from reductions in the cost of production.  Two thirds of the yield gain derive from adoption of insect resistant crops and the balance from herbicide tolerant crops;  …

Since 1996, biotech traits have added 74 million tonnes and 79.7 million tonnes respectively to global production of soybeans and corn.  The technology has also contributed an extra 8.6 million tonnes of cotton lint and 4.8 million tonnes of canola;  

If GM technology had not been available to the (13.3 million) farmers using the technology in 2008,  maintaining global production levels at the 2008 levels would have required additional plantings of 4.6 million ha of soybeans, 3.5 million ha of corn, 2.2 million ha of cotton and 0.3 million ha of canola (emphasis added).  This total area requirement is equivalent to about 6% of the arable land in the US, or 21% of the arable land in Brazil; 

World prices of corn, soybeans and canola would probably be respectively 5.8%, 9.6% and 3.8% higher than 2007 baseline levels if the technology was no longer available to farmers.  Prices of key derivatives (eg, soymeal) would also probably be 5% to 9% higher and prices of related cereals and oilseeds (eg, wheat, barley, sunflower) would be 3% to 4% higher;

Reducing pesticide use, soil erosion, and land use—what's not to like about biotech crops? Go here to the PG Economics site to see the press release and the related studies.