STUDY: Recent Trends in GE Adoption

By Michael Stebbins • October 20, 2016

The following is an excerpt of a study posted to the United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service page showing the adoption rates of several genetically engineered crops in the United States. 

Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for effective weed control. Based on USDA survey data, HT soybeans went from 17 percent of U.S. soybean acreage in 1997 to 68 percent in 2001 and 94 percent in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Plantings of HT cotton expanded from about 10 percent of U.S. acreage in 1997 to 56 percent in 2001, 91 percent in 2014, but declined to 89 percent in 2015 and 2016. The adoption of HT corn, which had been slower in previous years, has accelerated, reaching 89 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Insect-resistant crops containing the gene from the soil bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) have been available for corn and cotton since 1996. These bacteria produce a protein that is toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. Plantings of Bt corn grew from about 8 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 1997 to 19 percent in 2000 and 2001, before climbing to 29 percent in 2003 and 79 percent in 2016. The increases in acreage share in recent years may be largely due to the commercial introduction of new Bt corn varieties resistant to the corn rootworm and the corn earworm, in addition to the European corn borer, which was previously the only pest targeted by Bt corn. Plantings of Bt cotton also expanded rapidly, from 15 percent of U.S. cotton acreage in 1997 to 37 percent in 2001 and 84 percent in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Use of Bt corn will likely continue to fluctuate over time, based on expected infestation levels of European corn borer (ECB), and the corn rootworm, which are the main pests targeted by Bt corn. Similarly, adoption of Bt cotton depends on the expected infestation of Bt target pests, such as the tobacco budworm, the bollworm, and the pink bollworm. Adoption appears to have reached a plateau, as adoption has already occurred on acreage where Bt protection is needed most. Insect-resistant varieties have not been developed for soybeans.

These figures include adoption of "stacked" varieties of cotton and corn, which have both HT and Bt traits. Adoption of stacked varieties has accelerated in recent years. Stacked cotton reached 80 percent of cotton plantings in 2016. Plantings of stacked corn made up 76 percent of corn acres in 2016.

Adoption of all GE cotton, taking into account the acreage with either or both HT and Bt traits, reached 93 percent of cotton acreage in 2016. GE soybean adoption rates reached 94 percent in 2016 (soybeans have only HT varieties). Adoption of all GE corn accounted for 92 percent of corn acreage in 2016.

For more details about this report, please visit the USDA website

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