Yield study tallies gains from inputs, seed technology

Analysts determined that plant science innovations provided an economic benefit of $7.1 billion annually

Pesticides and modern seeds are popular with farmers because they protect and enhance yields.

While it might be unclear exactly how much these technologies contribute to yield, an Ottawa consul-tancy says it’s a lot.

In the case of canola, pest control products and modern plant breeding may increase yields by more than 54 percent, said RIAS Inc., a policy research and economic analysis firm.

“Plant science innovations contributed over $7.1 billion (annually) to Canada’s field crop production. Much of the gains came from substantially higher canola production, which benefitted from $3.7 billion in higher production,” said RIAS.

RIAS conducted an analysis for CropLife Canada, an advocacy group for the crop inputs sector. The study looked at the value of plant science innovations for Canadians and the economy.

RIAS found that field, fruit and vegetable crop yields are substantially higher because of pesticides and modern plant breeding. Those higher yields create jobs, drive exports and add billions to Canada’s GDP.

The RIAS report made several other observations:

  • The increased agricultural output from plant science innovations generates more than $7.5 billion in gross domestic product for Canada. Broken down, that’s $4 billion in added value by Canadian farmers and $3.5 billion in added value from more business for suppliers to Canadian farmers.
  • Plant science innovations create about 111,000 jobs.
  • To produce the same amount of crop, without the technology, Canada would need 50 percent more agricultural cropland.
  • Canadians could pay about 55 percent more for their food if the plant science innovations were not part of agriculture. Annually, the technologies save the average Canadian household an estimated $4,400 for food costs.

In the report, RIAS said higher yields are primarily responsible for the economic benefits to Canada. To estimate the yield impact of the technologies, RIAS analysts compared existing yields to a scenario where pesticides and modern plant breeding were not used.

To do this, RIAS evaluated conventional crop yields and organic yields.

“The difference in yields between the current situation and the counterfactual (organic), by crop and type of technology, were estimated based on 22 studies from academic literature, supplemented with input from experts from the horticulture industry,” the report said.

The consultancy not only compared organic and conventional yields, it estimated yield gains for specific crop science technologies.

Analysts lumped the technologies into two categories.

  • pest control products like insecticides, fungicides and herbicides.
  • modern plant-breeding methods

“Modern plant breeding refers to a whole suite of tools and technologies, including but not limited to genetic modification, used to improve plants by identifying genes, introducing beneficial genes, modifying existing genes and removing detrimental ones,” CropLife Canada said in an email.

In total, RIAS said Canadian field crop production was worth $22.1 billion. Plant science innovations were responsible for 32.2 percent of yield, which works out to $7.1 billion annually.

Attributing yield gains to a broad suite of technologies, such as pest control products, can be difficult because experiments usually isolate one practice and study its impact on yield.

RIAS said it relied on a few studies to estimate the benefits of crop protection products, such as a 2012 paper by Popp et al. that determined that insects, weeds and diseases cause crop losses of 30 percent in corn, soy and cotton.

To evaluate the impact of modern plant breeding, RIAS looked at several studies on the production benefits of biotech crops, including a 2014 paper by Brookes and Barfoot.

The RIAS paper lists all the studies considered for its report. It can be found at www.croplife.ca/about-us/publications.

Yield benefits

The RIAS study calculated a percent of yield for major field crops in Canada that can be attributed to plant science innovations. The chart is based on yields from 2010-2011.

  • Canola
  • Pest control 36.5%
  • Modern plant breeding 17.7%
  • Corn
  • Pest control 22.8%
  • Modern plant breeding 14.6%
  • Soybeans
  • Pest control 23.9%
  • Modern plant breeding 8.7%
  • Wheat
  • Pest control 20%
  • Modern plant breeding 10%

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