In the nineteenth year of widespread adoption, crop biotechnology has continued to provide substantial economic and environmental benefits, allowing farmers to grow more, with fewer resources, whilst delivering important environmental benefits for all citizens.
‘Where farmers have been given the choice of growing GM crops, the economic benefits realized are clear and amounted to an average of over $100/hectare in 2014’ said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics. ‘Two-thirds of these benefits derive from higher yields and extra production, with farmers in developing countries seeing the highest gains. The environment is also benefiting as farmers increasingly adopt conservation tillage practices, build their weed management practices around more benign herbicides and replace insecticide use with insect resistant GM crops’
Crop biotechnology has, to date, delivered several specific agronomic traits that have overcome a number of production constraints for many farmers. This has resulted in improved productivity and profitability for the 18 million adopting farmers who have applied the technology to 175.5 million hectares in 2014.
During the last nineteen years, this technology has made important positive socio-economic and environmental contributions. These have arisen even though only a limited range of GM agronomic traits have so far been commercialized, in a small range of crops
The crop biotechnology has delivered economic and environmental gains through a combination of their inherent technical advances and the role of the technology in the facilitation and evolution of more cost effective and environmentally friendly farming practices. More specifically:
The gains from the GM IR traits have mostly been delivered directly from the technology (yield improvements, reduced production risk and decreased use of insecticides). Thus farmers (mostly in developing countries) have been able to both improve their productivity and economic returns, whilst also practicing more environmentally-friendly farming methods;
The gains from GM HT traits have come from a combination of direct benefits (mostly cost reductions to the farmer) and the facilitation of changes in farming systems. Thus, GM HT technology (especially in soybeans) has played an important role in enabling farmers to capitalize on the availability of a low cost, broad-spectrum herbicide (glyphosate) and, in turn, facilitated the move away from conventional to low/no-tillage production systems in both North and South America. This change in production system has made additional positive economic contributions to farmers (and the wider economy) and delivered important environmental benefits, notably reduced levels of GHG emissions (from reduced tractor fuel use and additional soil carbon sequestration);
Both IR and HT traits have made important contributions to increasing world production levels of soybeans, corn, cotton and canola. In relation to HT crops, over reliance on the use of glyphosate and the lack of crop and herbicide rotation by some farmers, in some regions, has contributed to the development of weed resistance. In order to address this problem and maintain good levels of weed control, farmers have increasingly adopted a mix of reactive and proactive weed management strategies incorporating a mix of herbicides and other HT crops (in other words using other herbicides with glyphosate rather than solely relying on glyphosate or using HT crops which are tolerant to other herbicides, such as glufosinate). This has added cost to the GM HT production systems compared to several years ago, although relative to the conventional alternative, the GM HT technology continues to offer important economic benefits in 2014.
Overall, there is a considerable body of consistent evidence, in peer reviewed literature, that quantifies the positive economic and environmental impacts of crop biotechnology. The reason why so many farmers around the world have adopted and continue to use th technology.
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