Biotech benefits

Plant biotechnology: potential impact for improving pest management in European agriculture. Oilseed Rape Herbicide-Tolerant Case Study

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Abstract or Summary

A rapid increase in production of winter oilseed rape in northern Europe occurred in the 1970s. It was heavily supported to develop vegetable oil production in Europe. However, oilseed rape, called canola in the United States and Canada, is a slow-growing crop. Consequently, it is very sensitive to weed competition, and herbicides are the most widely used method of weed control. More than 90% of oilseed rape acreage in the E.U. is treated with herbicides. The average cost of weed control, the largest grower expense, for rapeseed is between 60 and 120/ha and can be as high as 150/ha in some difficult situations.

Two varieties of biotech herbicide-tolerant canola, glufosinate- and glyphosate-tolerant, were commercialized in Canada in 1996 and in the United States in 1999. Approximately 65% of U.S. canola acreage is planted with biotech varieties, and 55% of Canadian canola acres are biotech. In Canada, the biotech canola increased yield by 10% with an increase in profit of $12/A. In the United States, canola growers are saving $13/A as a result of lower weed control costs with an average yield increase of 6%.

Transgenic oilseed rape has been evaluated in U.K. grower fields since 1998. A threeyear set of Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs) was conducted in the U.K. to compare genetically modified herbicide tolerant (GMHT) crops with conventional varieties. They determined that glufosinate treatments were more effective in controlling weeds in the GMHT plots than were the herbicides used with the conventional varieties. A participant in Scottish trials estimated that the GMHT oilseed rape was 84/ha cheaper to grow than conventional varieties. Recent U.K. farm level field trials conducted in 2002 have shown yield gains of 14% for GMHT winter oilseed rape and 22% for spring oilseed rape. In 2001, the yield gain was estimated to be about 9%.

A French report from CETIOM concluded that a decrease of about 30% in herbicide costs is possible with the herbicide tolerant varieties. A recent study projected likely adoption of herbicide tolerant rapeseed varieties on 25% of the E.U.’s acres due to an economic advantage resulting from better weed control with higher yields and/or lower costs of weed control. The substitution of two glufosinate applications for the current herbicides used in rapeseed would lower herbicide use by 12%. The cost of a glufosinatetolerant program would be a 25% reduction from current costs. It is assumed that the glufosinate-treated rapeseed would yield approximately 6% more due to better weed control..

Paper reproduced by permission of NCFAP


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