Agronomic benefits of biotech crops can be described as the positive consequences of biotechnology which result in improved management practices and greater profitability of farming operations. They include increased yields, lower production costs (for example, lower seed, pesticide or herbicide costs), improved soil fertility, and reduced use of water.
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Some Key Advances and highlights in 2016
Biotech crops have expanded beyond the big four (corn, soybean, cotton, and canola) to give more choices for many of the world’s consumers. These biotech crops include sugar beet, papaya, squash, eggplant, potatoes that are already in the market, as well as apples which will be in the market in 2017. Potato is the fourth important staple crop in the world and eggplant is the number one vegetable consumed in Asia. Non-bruising and non-browning apples and potatoes can contribute to the reduction of food waste. Additionally, research done by public sector institutions include crops such as rice, banana, potato, wheat, chickpea, pigeon pea, mustard and sugarcane at advanced stages of evaluation, and are likely to provide even more diverse offerings to consumers, especially those in developing countries.
It is noteworthy that new biotech crops and traits are being field tested to cater to farmers and consumers. These include among others, staple crops such as beta-carotene enriched Golden Rice being tested in the Philippines and Bangladesh; bunchy top virus resistant biotech banana in Uganda; Fusarium wilt resistant biotech banana and biotech wheat with disease resistance, drought tolerance, altered oil content and grain composition being field tested in Australia; high yield and biomass wheat in the United Kingdom; late blight resistant potato varieties Desiree and Victoria in Uganda and late blight and nematode resistant potato variety Maris Piper with less bruising and less acrylamide potato in the EU; insect resistant chickpea and pigeon pea, and biotech mustard which are staple vegetables and oil source, respectively, in India; drought tolerant sugarcane in India and Indonesia; and omega-3 enriched camelina in the EU.
The four major biotech crops: soybean, maize, cotton, and canola, in decreasing area, were the most adopted biotech crops by 26 countries. The area planted to biotech soybean was the highest at 91.4 million hectares, which is 50% of the global hectarage of 185.1 million hectares for all biotech crops. Although the soybean area only showed a marginal decrease of 1% from 2015 (92.7 million hectares), the area is still substantial at 91.4 million hectares. Based on the global crop hectarage for individual crops, 78% of soybean, 64% of cotton, 26% of maize and 24% of canola were biotech in 2016
Herbicide tolerance deployed in soybean, canola, maize, alfalfa, and cotton, has consistently been the dominant trait at 47% of the global hectarage. A declining trend on herbicide tolerant crops planted was observed with the rise of stacked traits (combined insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, and other traits). The area planted to herbicide tolerant crops was 86.5 million hectares in 2016, occupying 47% of the global biotech hectarage of 185.1 million hectares. On the other hand, area planted to stacked traits increased by 29% in 2016 at 75.4 million hectares from 58.4 million hectares in 2015. Stacked traits occupied 41% of the global biotech crop hectarage of 185.1 million hectares.
James C., Global status of Commercialized biotech/GM Crops: 2016, ISAAA Brief No. 52-2016