Since the earliest days of biotech crop adoption in the mid-1990s, the industry has seen remarkable growth and progress. By 2014, the total global hectarage for biotech crops reached over 180 million hectares, and 28 countries on all six inhabited continents had adopted biotech crops. Read on for more detailed profiles of some of the countries at the forefront of biotech crop use.
Since first adopting plant biotechnology in 1996, Argentina has grown to become a leading producer of biotech crops. More than 24 million hectares in the country are used to grow soybeans (20.8 million hectares), maize (3 million), and cotton (0.5 million).
Biotech crop usage in Argentina has brought numerous benefits to the country. Embracing biotech varieties has helped Argentina nearly triple its annual maize exports and has added 1.82 million new jobs to the economy. It has also kept staple crops cheaper for local consumers—the price of soybeans in 2011 was 14% lower than it would have been had Argentine farmers not been using biotech crops. Finally, biotech crops have provided safer food for communities, particularly via insect-resistant varieties of maize that have reduced consumption of dangerous mycotoxins.
One of the world’s largest producers of biotech crops, Brazil grew 42.2 million hectares’ worth in 2012. Soybeans, cotton, and maize are the chief biotech crops currently grown in Brazil—the country is one of the largest global exporters of soybeans and has increased maize exports by over 700% during the last decade. Brazilian scientists and farmers are also researching a number of other biotech crops. These include rice, sorghum, sugarcane, and citrus; a new type of bean has recently been approved and is waiting for commercialization.
Biotechnology has been especially important to Brazilian farmers, given their need to be able to grow more food without encroaching on natural habitats and environments. Thanks to biotech crops, farmers in Brazil can now increase their per-hectare yields while at the same time keeping critical rainforest areas from being converted to farmland. Biotech crops have also enabled Brazilian farmers to save as much as 100 billion liters of water per year.
Farmers in Burkina Faso grow biotech cotton; three-quarters of all cotton farmers in the small African country have been growing Bt cotton for close to a decade. Working with these specially engineered, insect-resistant cotton varieties has drastically transformed Burkina Faso’s agricultural sector. In 2012 alone, cotton production shot up by 57.5%; in 2014, cotton accounted for 20% of the country’s GDP and 60% of its exports.
Overall, biotech cotton has brought higher yields and greater profits to Burkina Faso—profits have increased by an astonishing $95 per hectare. There have been social benefits as well; 2014 saw the formation of the first Bt cotton women farmer’s association.
Over 7 million farmers annually are growing biotech crops in India. The year 2014 saw a record 11.6 million hectares cultivated and a 95% biotech adoption rate. Presently focused on Bt cotton, India is also one of three countries participating in field trials for new varieties of biotech potato, which could see this staple crop increase in quality and productivity over the coming years.
Indian farmers cite a number of reasons for choosing to grow Bt cotton. About 51% of farmers say using the biotech crop allows them to spend less time in the field; 49% say it gives them peace of mind; and 48% say there is less tension from cotton cultivation with biotech varieties. In addition, wages for women on Bt cotton farms are 55% higher than on non-biotech farms.
With their planting of Bt maize in 2003, the Philippines became one of the first countries in Asia to adopt biotech crops. As of 2014, 415,000 small farms were cultivating 813,000 hectares. During the decade from 2003 to 2013, the estimated farm income gain thanks to the use of biotech crops was US$470 million.
While Bt maize is currently the only biotech crop cultivated in the Philippines, the country, like many others, is conducting research into other potential biotech crops, including rice and papaya.
A pioneer in the agricultural biotechnology industry and one of the first adopters of plant biotech in 1996, the US is currently the world’s most diverse producer of biotech crops. As of 2014, 73.1 million hectares were used to grow 10 different types of biotech crops: alfalfa, apples, canola, cotton, maize, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets.
Using biotech crop varieties allows American farmers to greatly reduce their tilling and weeding practices, saving time, money, and fuel. In fact, nearly four gallons of fuel per acre can be saved through no-till practices. Thanks to the use of biotech crops, American farmers have also seen the largest farm income gains of any biotech-adopting country: US$58.4 billion between 2003 and 2013.