A Message from ASA President Tony Anderson"
ST. LOUIS -- While farmers are busy putting the seeds of next year's crop in the ground, a noted critic of modern agricultural practices is sowing seeds of distrust with a new report about biotechnology- enhanced soybeans. While farmer confidence in biotechnology-enhanced soybeans is at an all-time high, as evidenced by the recent USDA planting intentions report, agriculture's critics won't admit this confidence is a result of proven gains -- both on the farm and in the environment -- so this latest report shouldn't surprise anyone.
The report, issued by Dr. Charles Benbrook of the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center, discusses changes in herbicide applications and yields associated with the development of biotechnology-enhanced soybeans.
We think it is critical the American public understand the farm and environmental benefits of today's biotechnology. Dr. Benbrook is so intent on finding something wrong with biotechnology, that he misses the big picture. There are always questions about new technology. As farmers growing food for a hungry world, we care very deeply about the safety and quality of our product, and we are committed to finding answers to the questions raised by biotechnology's critics. But this quest for knowledge should not undermine the positive environmental gains we have made using modern biotechnology. I am sharing the following information with you to help ensure the farmer's voice is heard within this debate.
Like any other successful business, the bottom line for farmers is profitability. Scientist can debate all day long about the meaning of various comparisons and observations, while soybean producers know what works and what doesn't work on their farm when it comes to seedstock, herbicides, farm equipment or any other input costs they must carefully evaluate in order to make a profit.
The numbers for biotechnology speak louder than words: In 1996, when biotech soybean seedstock first became available commercially, U.S. farmers planted only about 1 million acres of biotech varieties, which represented less than two percent of the total soybean acres planted that year. In 1997, planted acres of biotech soybeans increased to nearly 10 million acres, or about 14 percent of the total soy acres planted. By 1998, biotech seedstock acres increased to 25 million acres, representing about 34 percent of the total soy planting.
In 1999, approximately 38 million acres or 53 percent of total U.S. soy acres were planted to biotech seedstock, and last year biotech soybeans were grown on approximately 40 million acres or 55 percent of total U.S. soy acres. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that soybean farmers will again increase the number of acres they plant of soybean seed that have been enhanced through modern crop biotechnology.
Evaluating Production Factors
Many factors go into a farmer's decision making process for seed selection. Last year there were more than 3,000 different varieties of soybean seed were available, including more than 1,100 varieties that were Roundup Ready. Projected yield is only one of many variables that a grower must consider. More importantly, a farmer must look at local conditions in each field, such as soil type, moisture levels, and weed pests, before determining what products will work best in each particular situation.
Then, even after a producer works to make all the right decisions, weather often becomes the deciding factor when it comes to bottomline profits. Too little or too much rain, too cold or too hot, weather is the one factor that farmers have yet to manage.
For instance, last year in parts of central Iowa, soybeans had to deal with Labor Day weekend temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot temperatures sped along the maturation process, but the seed quality suffered and the soybeans rapidly dried down to an ultra low 8 to 9 percent moisture level. (13 percent is the normal target delivery standard.) This damaged some plants because they were brittle and resulted in additional mechanical damage to the seed when harvested.
Herbicide-tolerant soybeans are helping farmers protect the environment by allowing changes in tillage practices and herbicide applications. Through improved weed control, farmers also are producing cleaner crops that contain fewer non-grain materials.
In its July 20, 2000, Agricultural Outlook Summary, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated that planting biotech crops appeals to farmers because these crops simplify pest management, reduce pesticide use, and help control costs. Analysis by USDA's Economic Research Service indicates that adoption of biotech corn, soybeans, and cotton is associated with a decrease in the number pesticide treatments. Also, the herbicide-tolerance trait in soybeans allows substitution of glyphosate herbicides that are less persistent in the environment.
An independent study by Dr. Richard Phipps of the University of Reading, England, that was published in the July 2000 issue of Feed Compounder Magazine, reported that herbicide/insecticide use in biotech soybean and cotton production had decreased by 20 and 80 percent respectively, and that the use of biotech crops in North America has reduced the use of agrochemicals by 4.5 million litres (about 1.9 million gallons).
Another important benefit of biotech crops that should not be overlooked, is that biotech crops help farmers increase their use of no-till farming practices that reduce soil erosion by up to 90 percent and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by farm fields. On September 15, 2000, The Wall Street Journal published an article about a study at Michigan State University that showed that no-till farming, which is facilitated by Roundup Ready soybeans, resulted in an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases.
Critics of biotechnology cite the potential for herbicide resistance to develop if farmers depend upon only one weed control system. Farmers would agree that diverse technologies for weed control are an important part of managing weeds and other pests. Unfortunately, the hysteria caused by environmental activists in the European Union has frozen the regulatory approval for new biotechnology-enhanced products that could diversify a farmer's pest management options. One such product, a soybean resistant to glufosinate herbicide, would provide farmers another choice in seed/herbicide management systems, but the EU has not approved this product despite the petition being submitted in 1998.
ASA is a strong supporter of biotechnology because ASA's farmer-leaders believe biotechnology is a tool for producing safer, more nutritious food more efficiently and more abundantly. Agriculture biotechnology benefits not only producers, but also consumers and the world's environment.
Regulatory agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), have declared these crops safe after completing rigorous reviews of scientific testing. Soybeans grown from Roundup Ready seedstock are the same in composition, nutritional profile and safety (including allergenic potential) as any other commercially available variety.
Agriculture biotechnology has been embraced by farmers because it reduces input costs and provides increased production flexibility in conservation tillage practices. Work also is under way to produce soybeans with output traits that will directly benefit consumers. Soybean farmers recognize the need for consumer understanding and acceptance of agriculture biotechnology, and ASA continues to advocate open communication among consumers, producers, researchers, industry leaders and the regulatory community.
CONTACT: Tony Anderson, ASA President, 740-437-7803, or Bob Callanan, Communications Director, 314-576-1770, both of the American Soybean Association, fax, 314-576-2786
** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed for research and educational purposes only. **
Last Updated on 5/3/01