20 November 1998

Foreign growers reap rewards from GM crops

WHILE EU regulators and UK politicians keep the brakes on the use of genetically modified crops more overseas growers are reaping the benefits of the new technology.

That was a key message from the Biotechnology in Crop Protection – Facts and Fallacies conference staged by the British Crop Protection Council in Brighton this week.

Over 25m hectares (62m acres) of GM crops were grown around the world this year, lifting crop margins by up to £52/ha (£21/acre). Meanwhile, UK officials have postponed the introduction of GM herbicide-tolerant crops until at least 2000.

This year US growers planted over 2m hectares (5m acres) of Monsantos Bollgard GM cotton, which produces pest-killing Bt toxins.

Two-thirds of users applied no insecticide as a result, cutting insecticide use by 2.25 million litres, Monsantos Alastair Clemence told conference delegates.

Combined with an average yield benefit of 7% that led to a typical £52/ha (£21/acre) boost to crop margin after the extra cost of GM seed, he explained.

Quality also benefited, continued Mr Clemence. Work at Iowa State University showed less insect damage meant less fusarium ear rot, cutting levels of potentially dangerous mycotoxin from 14 parts per million to 1ppm.

In Canada 1.5m ha of GM-herbicide tolerant Canola oilseed rape was grown, users cutting herbicide use by up to 50% and lifting yield 9%, added Les Sykes, formerly of AgrEvo and now with Sands Agricultural Services in Norfolk. Quality also benefited, the proportion of seed making grade one rising from 63 to 85%.

With demand for food set to boom, as populations grow, GM technology will be a vital ingredient to remaining competitive on world markets, he said. &#42