The claims in the article below come from the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) which the science journal Nature describes as "a pro-GM industry group".
And looking at the biotech industry-supporting claims that invariably emerge out of NCFAP studies, it is rather difficult to know where its reseach ends and advocacy begins.
According to the article, "Using biotech crops allows growers to plant without tilling the soil, which reduces costs, soil erosion and dust." And a series of environmental benefits are then attributed to GM crops.
But reduced plowing or improved conservation tillage - low or no till agriculture, and the benefits that flow from it, do not require GM crops. Here's the US Dept of Agriculture's own analysis on this:
"Using herbicide-tolerant seed did not significantly affect no-till adoption."
Land agent Mark Griffiths has noted how:
"This finding sits in stark contrast to the claims of those who have attempted to promote GM crops on the back of rising economic and environmental interest in no-till crop husbandry.
"As the USDA report points out, the no-till acreage in America had already been steadily rising before the introduction of GMcrops. That prior trend has since simply continued. In fact to some degree it has subsequently stagnated according to the USDA analysis."
Griffiths points out that no-till was introduced on tractor-mechanised and large farms in Paraguay in 1990, long before GM crops. By 1997 51% of Paraguay's total cultivated area was 'no-tilled' without any GM-acreage atr all. By contrast, the figure for the United States in 2000/1, ie 4 years on and after several years of GM crop cultivation, was just 16%!!!
The added irony is that where in the U.S. no-till farming has become associated with GM herbicide-resistant crops, it is now being undermined by the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds, as a U.S. weed extension specialist noted recently, "With glyphosate-resistant horseweed we've already seen a reduction in no-till acres."
GM crops could thus be said to be harming no-till farming rather than assisting its adoption.
NCFAP also repeatedly use the argument that an increasing acreage of GM crops in the U.S. proves their efficacy. "Growers are really savvy businessmen," the NCFAP researcher claims. "If they try something and it doesn't work for them, they won't try it again the next year."
Oh, really? This is as naive as saying that if doctors prescribe large amounts of valium for a specific condition, it must be the best way of treating that condition. Research shows something quite different - that doctors' patterns of prescribing can be influenced by very similar factors to a consumers' choice of washing-up liquid!
Donald White, a University of Illinois plant pathologist, has talked of "a herd mentality" among U.S. farmers growing GM crops. "Everyone has to have a biotech program", he says, and that chimes in with a University of Iowa study on why farmers are growing GM soya. That study found that while increasing yields was cited by the majority of farmers in the study as the reason for planting the GM crop, the research showed they were actually getting lower yields.
Similarly, an annual review of the uptake of GM crops for 1998 reported yield improvements of 12% for farmers in the US growing GM soya, based on their own estimates. But a review of over 8,000 university-based controlled varietal trials involving GM soya in the US for that very same year showed almost exactly the opposite - yield reductions averaging 7%.
Study says farmers benefiting from higher yields, lower costs
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 6 December 2005
As the number of commercially available, genetically modified crops grows, so do the benefits reaped by American farmers, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.
With each new product introduction, the total acreage of genetically modified, or GM, crops planted in the United States increases, said the study's author, Sujatha Sankula. Competition does not appear to be stealing market share from Creve Coeur-based Monsanto Co., the world's leading provider of biotech seeds and traits; instead, the overall market is expanding, she said.
"It's not a substitution" of one product for another, Sankula said. Biotech crops "will be planted on more acreage than before, and therefore there will be more benefits to growers".
Some critics say the ultimate effects of GM crops on human health and the environment are unknown and suspect, but 10 years of use and study have shown no significant harms. Farmers quickly adopted the technology that allows them to cut down on the use of pesticides and herbicides, boost yield and reduce costs.
In 2004, biotech crops were planted on 118 million U.S. acres, an increase of 11 percent over the previous year, the study found. Growers using these varieties, as opposed to conventional crops, realized an additional $2.3 billion in income last year - largely due to an increase in yield of 6.6 billion pounds and a reduction in pesticide use of 62 million pounds, the study said.
It looked at the use of several GM varieties: herbicide-resistant canola, corn, soybeans and cotton; insect-resistant corn and cotton; and virus-resistant papaya and squash.
Each of the benefits - rising farm income, lower production costs and less pesticide use - swelled over the previous year because of the increased acreage, Sankula said.
Donna Winters, a third-generation farmer from Lake Providence, La., is supporting the study by sharing her experience with the media. Her 3,000-acre farm includes about 1,000 acres of soybeans plus 600 acres each of cotton and canola - all genetically modified. She planted the first available biotech crop, Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans, a decade ago.
"I just know the benefits of it. I know what I've seen on our farm, (including) positive benefits to the environment," she said.
Using biotech crops allows growers to plant without tilling the soil, which reduces costs, soil erosion and dust. That practice, along with the reduced use of pesticides, has made Winters' farm more welcoming to wildlife, she said. Species such as wild turkeys, red fox and quail have returned to the area in recent years.
But her true motivation for using GM crops is economic. She estimates a savings of $19 an acre, plus improved yield, in using Roundup Ready soybeans over conventional varieties.
"Growers are really savvy businessmen," Sankula said. "If they try something and it doesn't work for them, they won't try it again the next year."
Her study shows that demand has increased, year over year, since the initial NCFAP survey in 2001. As new traits are introduced to the market, they quickly are adopted.
In 2004, there was an increase in the use of LibertyLink crops, produced by Des Moines, Iowa-based Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a DuPont subsidiary. LibertyLink cotton, canola and corn can resist applications of glufosinate-ammonium herbicide, which Pioneer sells as Liberty.
These products compete with Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops, which can stand up to Monsanto's Roundup glyphosate weed-killer.
Growers apply less Liberty per acre than Roundup - typically 0.45 pounds per acre versus 1 pound per acre of active ingredient, respectively, Sankula said. So, that added to the overall benefit of reduced pesticide use.
But that doesn't mean fewer Roundup Ready crops were planted. On the contrary, their use also grew in 2004 over the previous year, Sankula said.
There was a similar uptick in the use of Herculex biotech crops - jointly developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred and Dow AgroSciences LLC of Indianapolis - without a reduction in use of competing Monsanto products, she said.
Sankula expects the trend to continue as new traits are introduced to the market. Roundup Ready Flex cotton and Herculex RW Rootworm Protection corn both will be planted for the first time next spring.
Some critics question the study, because NCFAP receives a portion of its operating funds from corporations that include Monsanto.
But Sankula defended the results, noting that acreage and yield data were drawn from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service. She surveyed researchers and extension crop specialists at land-grant universities to determine how the crops and pesticides are used by farmers.
The report also was reviewed by 29 agricultural, pest-management and plant biotechnology experts from 21 academic and government institutions, she said.
However, a study released last year by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which also used agriculture department statistics, produced different results.
It found that farmers were applying large amounts of glyphosate herbicide on Roundup Ready corn, soybeans and cotton in order to deal with glyphosate-resistant weeds. That increase in herbicide use was offset partially by a drop in insecticides applied to insect-resistant GM crops, resulting in an overall 4.1 percent increase in these chemicals used on biotech acres since 1996.
Sankula said the Union of Concerned Scientists' study takes pesticide application data from the agriculture department, without considering that those numbers include sprays used in land preparation rather than on crops; her report discounts that usage.
Sankula sees the final proof in the increasing adoption of this technology by farmers. "Growers have planted them all these years because they see the benefits," she said.
Boosting yields, income
Illinois and Missouri farmers gained by planting genetically modified crops rather than conventional varieties, says a study by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy. Here's how they benefited from using GM technology:
table at http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/business/stories.nsf/0/94CD2DDA456067A5862570D00013323B?OpenDocument