U.S. biotech crop area up 10 percent

For the seventh consecutive year, farmers around the world continued to plant biotech crops at a double-digit pace, with the 2003 total up 15 percent to 167.2 million acres or 67.7 million hectares, according to a report released today by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

The increase includes a provisional conservative estimate of 7.41 million acres or 3 million hectares of biotech soybeans in Brazil, which approved planting of biotech soybeans for the first time in 2003. The final planted area in Brazil could be significantly higher.

The report also stated that 7 million farmers in 18 countries — more than 85 percent resource-poor farmers in the developing world — now plant biotech crops, up from 6 million in 16 countries in 2002. Almost one-third of the global biotech crop area was grown in developing countries, up from one-quarter last year.

“Farmers have made up their minds,” said Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA. “They continue to rapidly adopt biotech crops because of significant agronomic, economic, environmental and social advantages.”

The number of countries responsible for 99 percent of the global biotech crop area expanded to six, up from four in 2002, according to the report. Brazil and South Africa joined the United States, Argentina, Canada and China as the leading growers of biotech crops. China and South Africa experienced the greatest annual increase, with both countries planting one-third more biotech hectares than in 2002. The remaining top 10 countries planting more than 50,000 hectares are Australia, India, Romania and Uruguay; another eight countries each plant up to 50,000 hectares of biotech crops.

In the United States, biotech crop acreage grew 10 percent as a result of significant gains in biotech corn area and continued growth in biotech soybeans. A total of 105.7 million acres of soybeans, corn and cotton were grown. Farmer Ray Bardole, who raises more than 600 acres of no-till biotech soybeans on his farm near Rippey, Iowa, says he plants biotech crops because of the economic and environmental advantages they afford.

“Current biotech crops are to agriculture what the Model T Ford is to modern transportation — we’re only beginning to see the benefits,” Bardole said. “We’re spending one-half to one-third what we used to on weed control, and we’re able to use more techniques like no-till that help us be better stewards of our land.”

Biotech soybeans continue to lead all hectares globally with an increase of nearly 13 percent to 102.2 million acres — 55 percent of soybeans globally. New varieties and country approvals spurred the greatest growth in the area planted to biotech maize, with an increase of 25 percent to a total of 38.3 million acres worldwide — 11 percent of the global maize area. Canola followed with 20 percent growth for a total of 8.9 million acres — 16 percent of canola hectarage globally. Biotech cotton was up approximately 6 percent to a total of 9.7 million acres — 21 percent of the global cotton area.

“Despite the ongoing debate in the European Union, there is cause for cautious optimism that the global area of biotech crops and the number of farmers planting them will continue to grow in 2004 and beyond,” James said.

Within the next five years, ISAAA predicts 10 million farmers in 25 or more countries will plant 100 million hectares or 247,000,000 acres of biotech crops. According to the report, the global market value of biotech crops is expected to increase from approximately $4.5 billion this year to $5 billion or more by 2005.

The Executive Summary of the report (ISAAA Briefs 30, by Clive James) can be accessed at www.isaaa.org.