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News

GM crops continue to boost productivity and farm incomes worldwide


During the last 17 years, the adoption of GMO technology has resulted in significant socio-economic benefits and advantages for farmers in developing and developed countries. The income and productivity gains stem predominantly from the fact that GM crops have enabled farmers to switch to more sustainable farming practices. This is one of the results of the ninth annual report from PG Economics, the UK-based agricultural economists, entitled GM Crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2012.

GM soy beans are grown world wide as an important protein source for food production and animal feed.

©iStockphoto.com/ fotokostic
 

Genetically modified (GM) crops have become widespread in global agriculture since their introduction in 1996. The four main crops in which GM traits have been commercialised worldwide are soybeans, maize, cotton and canola. They account for almost half of current global GM crop plantings, most of which are in the US, Canada, Asian countries and South and Central America. In particular, crops with herbicide (HT) and insect resistance (IR) traits, the study concludes, have significantly improved global productivity and profitability for farmers. In 2012, HT and IR crops boosted farm incomes by $18.8 billion. On a global productivity level, GM soy beans alone, contributed 122 million tonnes to global soy bean production.

Cotton production is an important agricultural sector for many developing countries. GM cotton has made a significant contribution to the income gains in developing countries coming from GM crops.


©iStockphoto.com/ Gilles_Paire

Income benefit in developing countries

Almost half of the income benefit was generated in developing countries, by farmers in Africa, South and Central America, Asia and the Philippines. Key crops for developing countries are GM soy beans and GM cotton. From 1996 to 2012, the combined income gain derived by farmers in developing countries was $58.15 billion, with the vast majority of the income gains coming from those two GM crops.

Interestingly, these gains can be attributed primarily to a combination of cost reductions and the facilitation of changes in farming practices. For instance, the fact that HT technology provides less expensive and easier weed control by replacing spraying between crop rows and mechanical removal of weeds, is seen as an important factor in reducing costs. The “no tillage” and “reduced tillage” production system adopted by the majority of farmers in combination with GM HT crop cultivation was also the main reason behind the increased production levels identified in the study.

Bild vergrößern

GM crop farm income benefits 1996-2012 selected countries: billion US $

More cost-effective weed management for farmers

No-tillage practice in combination with GM HT crops and the corresponding plant protection products have improved growers’ ability to control competing weeds, reducing the need for mechanical soil cultivation and seed-bed preparation. Farmers are able to plant into a vegetative cover crop without any prior cultivation, shortening production cycles. In South America, for instance, this has enabled many farmers to plant a crop of soybeans immediately after a wheat crop. As an additional result, tractor fuel use for tillage is reduced, soil quality is enhanced and levels of soil erosion cut. For farmers this significantly reduces fuel and production costs and the time required to prepare the soil.

Environmental impacts from changes in pesticide usage

Since 1996, GM crops have made a significant contribution to reducing the environmental impact of agriculture, according to the estimates published in the study. The fuel savings associated with making fewer spray runs and the fact that more carbon remains in the soil due to less soil disturbance have prevented 203 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. This CO2 reduction is equivalent to taking 90 million cars off the road. Furthermore, insecticide and herbicide use on the global GM crop area was reduced by 503 million kg of active ingredient.

The greatest environmental benefits were associated with GM insect-resistant crop plants, including Bt maize and Bt cotton. Cotton cultivation has traditionally been an intensive insecticide user. With the adoption of IR technology, GM cotton accounted for 25.6% of the total reduction in active pesticide ingredient. A positive trend resulting from herbicide-tolerant crops such as HT soy beans was the fact that this technology allowed farmers to switch to herbicides with a more environmentally benign profile than the ones generally used on conventional crops.

GM crops and global agriculture towards 2050

Increasing weed resistance to certain herbicides, however, remains one of the challenges facing GM crop farmers. Because some farmers have relied too much on the use of single herbicides, there has been a growing consensus among weed scientists of a need for change in the weed management programmes for GM HT crops.
Nevertheless, over the past 17 years, biotech crops have overcome a number of production constraints for many farmers worldwide. As GM technology has evidently improved productivity and profitability levels for farmers in developing and developed countries, it should be considered an important tool towards a more efficient and sustainable global agriculture, the report concludes.

Further information:

 


An EU Research Project

What are the risks of growing GM crops?

What are the benefits?

Numerous studies have addressed the potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants. Yet the existing evidence on the effects of GM plants is often contradictory and the quality of scientific research varies widely.

Therefore, the GRACE project will establish new tools for assessing the quality of existing studies and will conduct comprehensive reviews to identify health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM plants.

More information


Videos:

GMO Soybeans & Sustainability

Less soil erosion and fuel consumption: herbicide tolerant soybeans are promoting sustainable cultivation methods.

 

Glyphosate in European agriculture

Interview with a farmer



Glyphosate containing herbicides are not only used in fields with GM crops. They also allow conventional farmers to sow directly into stubble fields without ploughing. Glyphosate has replaced mechanical weed control in many crops and has had an important impact on agricultural practices and crop yields in Europe over the past few decades.

Source:
European Glyphosate Task Force

Animation: The Authorisation Process in Motion!
Applying, consulting, and making a decision: The long and winding road to GMO authorisation in EU
start animation
 Biosafety research:

Impact of Bt maize on
insect communities


Impact of Bt maize on
honey bees

More videos

 
Jenny asks: How does the PCR method work?


At Germany's Institute for the Chemical and Veterinary Analysis of Food (CVUA) in Freiburg they use the PCR method to test food for traces of GM plants.

 
Jenny asks: How does Agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer work?


Agrobacteria are a naturally occurring species of soil bacteria, which are able to transfer genes to plant cells. But how does this work? Jenny asks Thorsten Manthey of RLP AgroScience.

 
GM CROPS:

Promise and Reality

A Nature special issue

"The introduction of the first transgenic plant 30 years ago heralded the start of a second green revolution, providing food to the starving, profits to farmers and environmental benefits to boot. Many GM crops fulfilled the promise. But their success has been mired in controversy with many questioning their safety, their profitability and their green credentials. A polarized debate has left little room for consensus.

In this special issue, Nature explores the hopes, the fears, the reality and the future."

(Source: Nature)

Nature's special issue

May 28, 2014 [nach oben springen]

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