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Three Billion Acres and Growing!

10 Sep 2023

We don’t know exactly where it happened, so there weren’t any fireworks or parades. It could have been in my country of Brazil. It almost certainly was in South America where an early planting season offered the correct timing.

But sometime in the recent past, the acres planted to biotech crops passed three billion acres, according to Truth about Trade & Technology, an American non-profit group keeping track of planting reports from world governments.

How big is three billion acres? It’s bigger than all of the United States by one-third. It’s bigger than the Amazon rainforest. It’s bigger than all of Brazil. It’s big enough to say with absolute certainty that biotechnology is now a thoroughly conventional attribute of modern agriculture.

Farmers are switching to GM crops because they make so much sense. Yields rise. Costs fall. Genetically-enhanced crops are better for the environment because they promote no-till approaches that conserve soil. They also reduce the pressure to convert wilderness into farmland.

These crops fight world hunger as well. A new study from Graham Brookes of PG Economics shows that biotechnology has increased global farm production dramatically. Soybean harvests are 83 million tons greater than they would be without genetic modification. Corn harvests are up even more by 130 million tons.

Without biotechnology, we wouldn’t be able to come anywhere close to supplying the world’s demand for food.

On my farm, we started planting GM crops in 2003, as soon as glyphosate resistant soybeans became available in Brazil. We added corn in 2008. These were easy decisions and my only wish is that they had become available even sooner.

Now biotechnology is here to stay—and it’s getting even better. A new development holds great promise both for Brazil’s small farmers and its malnourished people. One of my country’s favorite national dishes is rice and beans. Low-income consumers depend on it as a staple food and small farmers depend on it because their livelihood comes from growing the ingredients. However, a deadly parasite makes producing this food difficult. In Brazil, white flies attack our edible beans, spreading the golden mosaic virus, which can devastate whole fields of crops.

Advances in biotechnology now offer a solution. Brazilian farmers now have the opportunity to grow beans that are genetically modified to resist the disease, giving them the strength they need to fight off the threat. The health of farmers will improve, too. Until recently, their most effective tool for crop protection had been weekly insecticide applications. With this new technology, that is no longer necessary.

The vast majority of farmers using biotechnology are, in fact, small farmers who only work a few acres at a time. Many are women. GM crops would not have approached 3 billion acres this year without their enthusiasm for biotechnology and the value it offers.

Soon, biotechnology will deliver yet another benefit, as we grow what are known as "biofortified" crops. These will deliver more proteins and vitamins for consumers, attacking the problem of malnourishment.

This is an important development. For years, the advocates of biotechnology have argued—correctly—the GM crops are no different from non-GM crops. When you cook them into food, not even scientists can tell the difference. Soon, however, we’ll be able to say that there is a difference. Biotech will be better for you.

We often talk about biotechnology as a part of our future, but let’s also recognize that it has become an indelible feature of our present: three billion acres prove this.

Richard Franke Dijkstra farms with his family in Ponta Grossa, Paraná, in southern Brazil. They grow soybeans, edible beans, corn, wheat, barley, ray grass and black oats—50 percent of the soybeans and corn they plant is GM and 100 percent of their farming operation is no-till. Richard and his brother-in-law also operate a 480 cow dairy and raise 4000 hogs annually. Richard is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network.

Article written by By: Richard Dijkstra, Ponta Grossa, Paraná, Brazil


Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.