If you haven't been keeping track, the world of biotech crops has come a long, long way since it was introduced 10 years ago in 1996. For example, when I started on this magazine the fears and fortunes of biotech filled my mail in-basket almost daily.

What once was considered a radical new approach to crop production has now become almost commonplace — worldwide.

Globally, biotech crops experienced the second highest acreage growth on record in 2004 to hit 200 million acres. That's according to the latest numbers from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).

The global area for biotech crops grew 20% in 2004, an increase of 32.9 million acres, according to Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA.

The recent report shows that 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries planted biotech crops in 2004. That's a whopping 1.25 million more farmers than planted biotech crops in 18 countries in 2003.

Interestingly, this year's study indicates that 90% of the farmers growing biotech crops were from developing countries. That's the first time biotech growth has been higher in developing countries (18 million acres) than in industrial countries (15.2 million acres) like the U.S.

Growth of “biotech mega-countries” (countries growing 125,000 acres or more of biotech crops) jumped from 10 to 14 last year. That bump came from the addition of Paraguay, Mexico, Spain and the Philippines. Also, the number of countries accounting for the majority of the global total of biotech crop area grew from five to eight and includes the U.S. (see chart).

On the home front, U.S. farmers planted 119 million acres of biotech crops, up 11% from 2003. American farmers were again the big guns, growing 59% of the global total of biotech crops.

Not surprising, a significant amount of that growth came in biotech corn hybrids and continued use of herbicide-tolerant soybeans. There was only modest growth in biotech cotton since the adoption rate had already about reached 80% last year.

“In the future there will be increased pressure to produce a safe, affordable food supply,” says Darrin Ihnen, chair of the National Corn Growers Association Biotechnology Working Group and farmer from Hurley, SD. “Biotechnology is one of the tools farmers can use to meet these needs without increasing acreage.”

In the future, ISAAA's James expects most of the biotech crop planting growth to come from five major developing countries: China, India, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa.

“Biotech crops are now poised to enter a new era of momentum that will stimulate growth well into the future,” James says.

He also points to two new biotech corn hybrids now approved for import into the European Union and continued signs of progress in China that will fuel the biotech fire. For example, China is likely to approve Bt rice in the near term, probably in 2005. That, James says, would usher in adoption of the most significant food crop in the world and have a major impact on the acceptance of biotech food, feed and fiber crops worldwide.

By 2010, ISAAA predicts up to 15 million farmers will grow biotech crops on 375 million acres in up to 30 countries. Talk about a fast-paced adoption rate — these numbers are almost staggering.

As expected and as the numbers show, biotech progress marches on despite its naysayers.

Next on the adoption front? Keep your eye on pharma crops. They'll likely be the next acceptance hurdle to overcome.

Greg Lamp
EDITOR
glamp@primediabusiness.com