Washington Farmers will sharply boost their plantings of genetically engineered soybeans this year, despite opposition to biotechnology overseas and signs of unease among U.S. consumers, the government said Friday.
About 63 percent of this year's soybean crop, or about 48 million acres, is expected to be genetically engineered, up from 54 percent in 2000, according to the Agriculture Department's annual survey of farmers' planting intentions. The biotech soy is immune to the Monsanto Co.'s popular Roundup weedkiller.
"Clearly farmers like using Roundup-ready soybeans," said Bill Nelson, a commodity analyst with A.G. Edwards & Sons.
Slightly under 10 million acres of the cotton that farmers will plant this spring, or 64 percent, is expected to be biotech, compared to 61 percent in 2000, USDA said. Biotech cotton is either resistant to insect pests or herbicides, or both.
"The reports of our death are erroneous," said Lisa Dry, a spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. "It just shows that farmers see the tremendous benefits of this technology."
About 24 percent of the 2001 corn crop will be genetically engineered, compared to 25 percent last year, USDA said.
The biotech industry was embarrassed last year when a gene-altered variety of corn, known as StarLink, was found in the food supply without being cleared for human consumption.
StarLink, one of the least used of the various biotech corn varieties, has been withdrawn from the market. But farmers are concerned that stray seeds from last year's StarLink crop may sprout in their fields and have been encouraged to plant biotech soybeans on that acreage. Any wild StarLink plants will die when the genetically modified soybeans is treated with herbicide.
Although there is strong resistance to biotech food in Europe and Japan, most U.S.-grown corn and soybeans are consumed domestically.
Yield-robbing weeds have long been a problem for soybean growers, so development of the biotech varieties has made it much easier to grow the crop. Many farmers have expanded their acreage as a result. In other cases, the crop has freed up time for growers to take off-farm jobs to supplement their incomes.
"There are a lot of different opportunities there," said Tony Anderson, president of the American Soybean Assn. "There's no doubt about the appreciation of the technology that Roundup-ready offers."
A spokesman for Monsanto said there should be no shortage of seed, but Anderson said some of the most prized varieties may not be available everywhere.