Attitudes toward biotechnology among agricultural producers in South Dakota were surveyed by Van der Sluis and Angela Van Scharrel, currently an economist at the State of South Dakota in Pierre.

“South Dakota farmers have had the highest adoption rates of transgenic soybeans and corn in the United States over the last three years,” says Van der Sluis. “We conducted the survey to find out why the transgenic crop adoption rates were so high and to assess farmer attitudes towards biotechnology.”

Responses were collected from 367 randomly selected corn and soybean farmers in South Dakota in Spring 2002.

Survey results indicate that larger farms had higher transgenic adoption rates than smaller farms. Younger farmers, and farmers with higher levels of education, were also more likely to grow transgenic crops, says Van der Sluis.

The three major types of transgenic crops in South Dakota are herbicide-tolerant soybeans, herbicide-tolerant corn, and Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, which produces its own pesticide.

Respondents indicated that improved insect or pest control were major factors in the adoption of all three types of transgenic crops.

“Improved yield was also a key factor in growing Bt corn, but less important for growing herbicide-tolerant corn or soybeans,” says Van der Sluis.

“Other important reasons for adopting transgenic varieties were to reduce the amounts of labor, costs, and herbicides. The main reason some farmers chose not to grow transgenic crops was satisfaction with their current varieties.”

Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents believed that biotechnology benefits South Dakota farmers. Respondents were less positive regarding benefits for agriculture in general, says Van der Sluis.

“About half of the surveyed farmers indicated that biotechnology can help solve farm surpluses by finding new uses for crops and livestock, while the other half believed that biotechnology could hurt American farmers by increasing farm surpluses.”

Many producers were concerned about a shift in power away from production agriculture and towards agricultural input firms, making farmers more dependent upon large corporations, says Van der Sluis.

“On the other hand, nearly half of the respondents expected biotechnology will enable farmers to become less dependent upon agricultural chemicals.”

More than two-thirds of respondents were concerned about consumer acceptance of genetically modified crop products, especially in foreign markets, and almost half of the respondents expected biotechnology to make it harder for the United States to export its crops. However, most respondents stated that consumer concerns over genetically modified products were exaggerated, and that biotechnology would benefit consumers, Van der Sluis explains.

Many respondents indicated a need for more knowledge about biotechnology. “Two-thirds found that farmers in general lack sufficient knowledge of biotechnology, and fewer than half considered themselves to be well-informed about the topic. Many respondents attributed this to difficulty in getting access to objective information about biotechnology,” says Van der Sluis.

He reported survey results in the Jan. 9 and Jan. 28 issues of the Economics Commentator, a newsletter of the Economics Department at South Dakota State University.

Copies of the newsletters can be downloaded from an SDSU Web site, http://econ.sdstate.edu/. Go to the pull-down bar under “Research” and click on “Economics Commentator.”

Detailed survey results are reported in Van Scharrel’s master’s thesis at the Department of Economics, SDSU. Find the thesis online at http://wwwlib.umi.com/cr/sdstate/fullcit?p1415411.