GM crops increase farmer incomes, sustainability

GM crops increase farmer incomes, sustainability

Report quantifies benefit ag biotech has had on environment and farmer incomes since 1996.

FARMERS who used genetically modified (GM) seeds are benefitting economically while also improving the environmental sustainability of their farming operations, according to a newly released global impact study by PG Economics.

The economic benefit for farmers who used GM seeds amounted to an average of more than $117 per hectare in 2012, according to the report, "GM Crops: Global Socio-Economic & Environmental Impacts 1996-2012."

"Half of the farm income gains and the majority of the environmental gains associated with changes in pesticide use and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions occurred in developing countries," said Graham Brookes, co-author of the report.

Dr. Cathleen Enright, executive vice president for food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, pointed out that the report's findings regarding the contributions biotechnology makes to the environment are equally significant.

"The increased use of insect-resistant crops has reduced the need for chemical insecticides, and the adoption of herbicide-tolerant crops has enabled farmers to switch to more benign herbicides to help control weeds," Enright explained. "In addition, the switch to no-till cropping systems by farmers growing herbicide-tolerant crops has reduced on-farm fuel use, enhanced soil quality and cut greenhouse gas emissions."

The annual PG Economics report quantifies the impact agricultural biotechnology has had on the environment and on farmer incomes since GM crops were commercialized in 1996.

One of the key findings of the report is that GM crops, thanks to reduced tillage, have contributed to significantly reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices as a result of less fuel usage and additional soil carbon storage.

In 2012, this was equivalent to removing 27 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or removing 11.9 million cars from the road for one year.

The study also found that from 1996 to 2012, crop biotechnology reduced pesticide spraying by 8.8%. As a result, the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to GM crops decreased 18.7%.

Insect-resistant technology in GM cotton and corn plants consistently delivered yield gains by reducing pest damage, according to the report. The average yield gains over the 1996-2012 period increased 10.4% for insect-resistant corn and 16.1% for insect-resistant cotton.

Farmers who used improved seeds and grew biotech crops saw substantial net economic benefits at the farm level, amounting to $18.8 billion in 2012 and $116.6 billion for the 17-year period (Table 1).

The total farm income gain was divided equally between farmers in developing and developed countries, but the highest yield gains were obtained by farmers in developing countries, many of whom were resource-poor and farmed small plots of land.

As global leaders continue to contemplate the dilemma of feeding a growing population, the report reveals the significance of using GM crops.

According to the report, between 1996 and 2012, crop biotechnology was responsible for the production of an additional 122.3 million metric tons of soybeans and 231.4 mmt of corn, as well as an extra 18.2 mmt of cotton lint and 6.6 mmt of canola (Table 2).

 

1. Global farm income benefits from growing GM crops, 1996-2012, million $

 

-Increase in farm income-

Trait

2012

1996-2012

GM HT soybeans

4,797.9

37,008.6

GM HT maize

1,197.9

5,414.7

GM HT cotton

147.2

1,371.6

GM HT canola

481.0

3,664.4

GM IR maize

6,727.8

32,317.2

GM IR cotton

5,331.3

36,317.2

Others

86.3

496.7

Totals

18,769.4

116,590.4

Notes: All values are nominal. HT = herbicide-tolerant. IR = insect resistant. Others = virus-resistant papaya and squash and herbicide-tolerant sugar beets. Farm income calculations are net farm income changes after inclusion of impacts on yield, crop quality and key variable costs of production (e.g., payment of seed premiums, impact on crop protection expenditure).

 

2. Additional crop production arising from positive yield effects of GM crops, mmt

 

-Additional production-

 

1996-2012

2012

Soybeans

122.3

12.0

Maize

231.4

34.1

Cotton

18.2

2.4

Canola

6.6

0.4

Sugar beets

0.6

0.15

Note: GM herbicide-tolerant sugar beets only in the U.S. and Canada since 2008.

 

Volume:86 Issue:19

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