More food at lower cost, with less reliance on pesticides to control crop-robbing diseases and pests: Those are among the key benefits farmers and consumers are realizing through biotechnology.

A study released earlier this year of 27 crops, representing slightly more than half the U.S. crop production value, documented that improved plants developed through biotechnology can help Americans gain 14 billion pounds of food annually, boost farm income by $2.5 billion - while using 163 million fewer pounds of pesticides. It is the most comprehensive evaluation to date on the impact of biotech crops on U.S. agriculture.

Just six biotech crops (cotton, corn, soybeans, squash, canola, and papaya) now in the marketplace have resulted in an additional 4 billion pounds of food and fiber from the same number of acres, an extra $1.5 billion in farm income, and a reduction in pesticide use of 46 million pounds. In Mid-South states, the analysis indicates:

  • Arkansas: The potential impact of biotechnology on cotton, corn, soybeans, and rice is an annual increase of 19 million pounds of food and fiber, $11 million in farm income, and a reduction in pesticides of 64,000 pounds.
  • Louisiana: Biotech varieties could increase annual corn, cotton, rice, soybean, and sugarcane production more than 1.4 billion pounds, improve farm income more than $97 million, and reduce pesticide use 4.7 million pounds.
  • Mississippi: Use of biotech corn, cotton, rice, and soybean varieties could boost annual production more than 231 million pounds, increase farm income $86 million, and cut pesticide use more than 2.5 million pounds.
  • Missouri: Biotech cotton, rice, soybean, corn, and apple varieties could increase annual output more than 209 million pounds, farm income more than $81 million, and reduce pesticide use 3.5 million pounds.
  • Tennessee: Planting biotech corn, soybeans, wheat, and sunflowers could boost annual production more than 54 million pounds, farm income more than $37 million, and cut pesticide use by 932,000 pounds.

The study showed that just one crop, herbicide-resistant cotton, is already reducing herbicide use by 6.2 million pounds beltwide, and saving farmers $133 million yearly in weed control costs. Insect resistant varieties are cutting pesticide use another 1.9 million pounds.

"This study demonstrates the vast impact biotechnology is having on our food production system, and its future potential," says Leonard Gianessi, program director for the Washington-based National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, a private, non-profit, non-advocacy research organization that conducts studies in biotechnology, pesticides, U.S. farm/food policy, and international trade and development.

"In some cases," he says, "biotechnology offers the only practical way of controlling diseases that reduce yields and threaten entire crops. In nearly every case we evaluated, biotechnology provides equal or better control of harmful pests at reduced costs. The study shows that every region of the country stands to benefit from development of the new varieties evaluated in this study."

In nearly every one of the 40 case studies, which were reviewed by some 70 plant biotechnology experts at 20 academic and government institutions, biotech varieties gave equal or better control of harmful pests, at reduced costs.

e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com