Modified Crop Plantings Fall in Industrialized Nations

Genetically modified crop plantings fell in industrialized nations for the first time since the technology was commercialized in 1996, an industry report said.

Plantings in those countries fell about 2 percent to 81 million hectares (200 million acres) last year as Canada sowed less modified canola and Australia cut back on cotton, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications said in a report today.

“Growth is plateauing as far as the major industrial countries are concerned,” said Clive James, the report’s author and founder of Ithica, New York-based ISAAA. The group is funded by governments, foundations and companies including Monsanto Co. (MON), the largest developer of biotech crops.

“The major trend is going to be in the developing countries, which for the second consecutive year planted more than industrial countries,” he said in an interview.

The $15.6 billion modified-seed industry faces political opposition in the European Union while the U.S., its largest market, is almost saturated. In contrast, higher plantings in Brazil helped to lift the global total by 3 percent to a record 175.2 million hectares.

Crops developed using biotechnology contain genes from other species that bestow new traits, such as tolerating herbicides or producing bug-killing proteins.

Brazil has led global gains in the cultivation of biotech crops for half a decade. That’s partly because of its fast-track regulatory approval system, James said.

Cotton Decline

Monsanto is counting on Latin America to drive sales growth this decade. Its Intacta beans, designed to control insects and introduced this year across 3 million acres in Brazil, have a potential market of 100 million acres, the St. Louis-based company has said.

In the U.S., the leading market for modified crops, plantings rose less than 1 percent to 70.1 million hectares last year amid a drop in modified cotton, according to James.

Modified plants accounted for 90 percent of U.S. corn while 93 percent of the soy crop was genetically engineered.

Modified cotton fell to 90 percent of the U.S. crop, from 94 percent a year earlier, according to USDA data compiled by Bloomberg. Drought prompted some farmers to switch to cheaper conventional seed on their least productive land, said Mark Kelley, a cotton agronomist at Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension Service in Lubbock.

The decline in modified plantings in Canada was due to an 800,000-hectare reduction in canola as farmers rotated more conventional wheat into their fields, while lower overall cotton plantings in Australia reduced use of biotech varieties there, James said. Still, 96 percent of Canadian canola and more than 99 percent of Australian cotton were genetically modified, he said.

The number of nations using the technology held steady at 27 after Bangladesh farmers sowed insect-resistant eggplant for the first time, James said. Further growth may come from new engineered crops such as potatoes that resist late blight and herbicide-tolerant sugar cane, while China may could soon authorize the planting of engineered corn and eventually approve biotech rice, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Kaskey in Houston at jkaskey@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Casey at scasey4@bloomberg.net

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