GM crops providing billions in farmer benefits

Posted on December 14, 2015

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by Stuart Smyth

Were it not for the snow on the ground, I would have thought it was April Fools, not Christmas when I read the Western Producer story, Anti-GMO group says yield gains non-existent (December 3, 2015). Lucy Sharratt, Taarini Chopra and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network are once again deliberately attempting to deceive and mislead Canadians about genetically modified crops, something they have been doing for nearly 20 years. 

Environmental groups such as CBAN, have been unable, or unwilling, to accept that GM crops provide economic and environmental benefits for farmers. CBAN continues to perpetuate lies, myths and inaccuracies about GM crops. A factsheet on CBAN’s website still perpetuates the myth that GM cotton adoption by small landholder farmers in India increased the rate of suicide among these farmers, when this was scientifically refuted in 2011. Four years later, CBAN is still intentionally misleading the Canadian public. Factual accuracy means nothing to CBAN and the environmental movement. 

In CBAN’s most recent foray into fictional publishing, a November 2015 report ‘Are GM Crops Better for Farmers?’ they dismiss the yield increases from GM canola and advocate that farmers have not financially benefited from GM canola. Let’s examine this a bit closer.

CBAN reports that canola yields have increased by 2.4% over the past 20 years, yet regard this as insignificant when compared to the 0.7% increase in the previous 20 year period. CBAN’s basic lack of agricultural knowledge is glaring as in 2010 the Food and Agriculture Organization published a report on ‘How to Feed the World in 2050’, identifing that crop yields for the three staples crops of maize, rice and wheat were averaging less than 2% growth per annum. Crop yields of at least 2% are required every year just to feed the planet’s current population.

Source: www.fao.org/

Additional research from the University of California, Davis, shows commodity yields in North America to be continually declining. The researchers examined the following rates of growth of global average yields for selected crops (% per year), finding that in the developed world, wheat yields actually decreased between 1990 and 2006. Had CBAN actually been concerned about Canadian farmers and gathered some basic knowledge, they would have found that an annual canola yield increase of 2.4% is very significant, especially when compared to a non-GM crops like wheat with 0.19% annual yield increases. 


Source: giannini.ucop.edu

Reminiscent of the Dr. Suess stories I was read as a child is CBAN’s suggestion that GM crops don’t put more money into farmers’ pockets. I led a group of researchers that surveyed farmers in Western Canada in 2007 about their experiences after growing GM canola for 10 years. We found that the economic benefits of GM canola annually ranged between $350 million and $400 million. Cumulatively over the past nine years, GM canola has created benefits worth $3.5 billion. 

The biggest surprise from our survey, was the identification and quantification of second year spill-over benefits. Farmers identified that in some years, weed control in a field following GM canola was so superior that they wouldn’t need to spray that field for weeds at all in the following crop year. Farmers self-identified that the value of this spillover benefit was worth $15 per acre, on average. Nearly 20% of the farmers who responded to the survey identified that this benefit was greater than $25 per acre. Additional benefits included reduced dockage, earlier seeding dates and reduced fuel use.  

With the depth of evidence and knowledge available about the economic and environmental benefits from GM crops, any organization saying that GM crops don’t provide economic benefits to farmers are intentionally trying to mislead, if not outright lie, to the Canadian public. It appears that CBAN doesn’t possess the integrity to be honest with Canadians about the benefits of GM crops to Canadian agriculture. The Canadian agriculture industry should be immensely proud of the economic and environmental benefits that have been generated from GM crops over their 20 year history.

I know it is winter outside, but please don’t let CBAN pull the wool over your eyes about the economic benefits of GM crops. 

Stuart Smyth
Assistant Professor, College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan