Researchers says pets, herbicides are factors
URBANA - Genetically modified grain is a bargain only if farmers exert better pest control, harvest higher yields and pay fewer expenses, according to a policy researcher.
Leonard Gianessi of the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy said new technology also doesn't qualify as a bargain if farmers can't sell their crops. Some genetically modified (GM) crops are not accepted in Europe and Japan. Gianessi spoke Tuesday to farmers and agribusiness representatives attending the Illinois Crop Protection Technology Conference at the University of Illinois.
Enduring a sixth straight year of historically low grain prices, farmers are more carefully scrutinizing the added costs of GM seed. Gianessi's work - research involving 40 case studies on 30 crops - showed that farmers make money growing Roundup Ready soybeans and Bt corn.
Roundup Ready soybeans, resistant to Roundup herbicide, were grown on more than half the nation's acreage in 2001. Gianessi said the soybeans reduce herbicide use and allow the purchase of less expensive herbicide.
"Because of Roundup Ready soybeans, the price of herbicides has declined by about 40 percent. That has resulted in a $400 million reduction in herbicide costs for growers," he said.
Gianessi cited U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data on Bt corn, which is resistant to European corn borer. If borer numbers are low, the EPA data showed farmers received $2.10 more per acre from a 5-bushel-per-acre yield increase.
If borer populations are high, farmers made an additional $12.10 per acre from yield increases of 10.8 bushels per acre, the EPA data showed. The scenario assumed farmers were paying $8 per acre more for their seed in the form of technology fees.
The National Center of Food and Agriculture Policy study was funded in part by Monsanto, a major supplier of GM seed. Gianessi said funding was supplied by a variety of sources, including the Rockefeller Foundation.
"We are not consultants. We work in a public realm, so our work is not reviewed. We just do the studies and put them out there," said Gianessi. "Not all GM crops are a bargain, like Bt eggplant."
A recent study by consultant Charles Benbrook, a former executive director of the National Academy of Science Board of Agriculture, strongly criticized GM corn as a money maker. Benbrook said farmers have lost $92 million or an average of $1.31 per acre during the last six years growing Bt corn.
The study for the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy was based on technology fees of $8 to $10 per acre, and average yield increases of 3.9 bushels per acre. Benbrook said farmers need to realize a yield increase of at least 5 bushels per acre to make money growing Bt corn.
Growing Bt corn paid in 1996, 1997 and 2001 when European corn borer populations were high, according to Benbrook. It did not pay in 1998, 1999 or 2000 because of very low populations, he said.
"Whether GM corn is a bargain depends on corn borer pressure," agreed Gianessi. "It's like an insurance policy against a large population developing."
Last Updated on 1/11/02