QI am interested in learning more about how biotech seeds improve sustainability. Can you provide examples?

I am interested in learning more about how biotech seeds improve sustainability. Can you provide examples?

AExpert Answer

Herbicide-tolerant crops have encouraged farmers to practice no-till farming. In conventional farming, the fields are plowed ("tilled") to control weeds.  Because of the superior weed control from GM crops, farmers now have to till much less often. This has led to improved soil health and water retention, reduced runoff, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. (National Academy of Sciences, Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States, 2010) http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12804


Insect-resistant crops have greatly reduced the amount of insecticide that has to be applied to insect-protected crops. It’s estimated that an astounding 600 million pounds LESS active ingredient of insecticide has been used in the United States because of the use of GM crops, significantly reducing farmers’ costs and environmental footprint. (Brookes and Barfoot, Key environmental impacts of global GM crop use 1996-2011, in GM Crops and Food, 4/26/2013) http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/pdf/2013globalimpactstudyfinalreport.pdf)


In developing countries, the increased production from GM seeds has allowed small farmers to generate more income off of the same amount of land, thus reducing the practice of cutting down forest for more cropland.


The greatest gains are yet to come. GM plants with more efficient use of nitrogen and other important nutrients mean less fertilizer will be needed, saving farmers money, and less fertilizer ends up in the environment.  As mentioned previously, GM plants are available to withstand moderate water deficits. In the near future these same traits may allow the same yields or better while consuming less water. Such technologies have been demonstrated as effective in the laboratory and in field contexts.


Going forward, as we apply what we learning about organic, low-input and sustainable production practices to GM crops, we’ll see comparable or improved performance with less cost and environmental impact.

Posted on August 31, 2018
There is actually a great deal of genetic diversity among the hybrids and varieties that have also had a gene added by genetic engineering. Once an engineered version of the plant is developed, it goes back into the regular breeding system which is used to develop lines that are adapted to different soils and climates. Now from a pest evolution perspective it isn’t wise to depend on only one Bt gene for insect resistance or one gene for tolerance to one herbicide. That... Read More
Posted on February 28, 2018
Thank you for your question. We’ve compiled a variety of responses from a few of our experts discussing pesticides, the environment and GMOs which we hope will answer your question. Andrew Kniss, associate professor of Weed Ecology & Management, Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Wyoming, addresses pesticides and the environment in a response to a similar question. ”Once applied, a vast majority of pesticides do not remain in the environment indefinitely. There... Read More
Posted on February 23, 2018
Herbicide cost per acre depends on a wide number of variables including (but not limited to) weed species present, farm location, timing of application, crop seeding rate, competitiveness of crop, herbicides used, length of growing season in that location, etc. Thinking about herbicide cost is only one of many factors to consider regarding input cost as well as revenue expectations. There are fertility costs, seed costs (including traits), fuel costs, cost of insect and disease management,... Read More