Canadian producers are major GMO adopters

Canada led way with 18 percent increase in genetically modified acres as corn and soy continue westward expansion

Canada was one of the global leaders in the adoption of biotech crops in 2017, according to a new report.

Canadian farmers planted 32.4 million acres of genetically modified crops last year, a 4.9 million acre increase over 2016, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

That year-over-year increase was second only to the United States, which saw a 5.2 million acre surge.

In percentage terms Canada led the way of all countries growing a minimum of one million acres of GM crops. Canada had an 18 percent increase. The next highest was Bolivia at seven percent.

GM canola was by far Canada’s top biotech crop with 21.8 million acres, followed by GM soybeans at 6.2 million acres and GM corn with 4.4 million acres.

The growth in corn and soybeans is occurring because the two crops are moving into Western Canada due to biotech varieties that are better suited to prairie growing conditions.

Sugar beets, alfalfa and potatoes were the other three biotech crops grown by farmers.

GM canola area increased by 15 percent in 2017, GM soybeans were up 20 percent and GM corn plantings rose by 19 percent.

“The average (biotech) adoption rate for the four major crops of soybeans, (corn), canola and sugar beets was similar to 2016 at 95 percent,” stated the ISAAA report.

Around the world, farmers planted 469 million acres of GM crops in 24 countries, a three percent increase over the previous year.

Developing countries accounted for 53 percent of global biotech acres compared to 47 percent for industrialized countries.

The United States led the way with 185 million acres of GM crops, followed by Brazil, Argentina and Canada in fourth place.

GM soybeans accounted for nearly half of the global acres of biotech crops, followed by GM corn with 31.4 percent, GM cotton at 12.8 percent and GM canola with 5.4 percent.

A study by PG Economics estimates GM crops delivered US$186.1 billion in additional revenue for farmers around the world between 1996 and 2016, including $8 billion in the pockets of Canadian growers.

Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, doesn’t see much in the way of progress for GM crops.

“The situation for genetically modified crops looks pretty much the same as it has the past few years,” she said.

The list of countries growing GM crops remains fairly static. The U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India account for 91 percent of global acres.

Herbicide tolerance and insect resistance are still the two dominant traits.

As well, soybeans, corn, cotton and canola account for 99 percent of GM acres around the world, and the adoption rates with those crops is so high she wonders how there is any room for growth.

Sharratt said the introduction of new GM crops such as potatoes, apples and eggplant is “stuttering.”

One trend that worries her is the move toward stacked traits, such as combining herbicide tolerance with insect resistance.

“It would be a concern with increased stacking (that) we would see increased seed prices, especially now with the mergers between companies,” she said.

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