More GE Crops Planted in USA--But Farmers Are Starting to Worry
BIOTECH CROPS GAIN FAVOR ON THE FARM CONTROVERSY
ABROAD HASN'T SLOWED PLANTING
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch; 05/23/99)
In a flat, fertile field near the fast-flowing Missouri River, Warren
is planting genetically engineered soybeans for the third year in a row.
"I won't say I'm the first in line to try something new, but I'm eager to
try something that will help our operation," said Stemme, of Chesterfield,
whose beans tolerate Monsanto Co.'s Roundup herbicide. The Roundup Ready
will cover 250 acres, or half his soybean acreage.
"You can save money on the cost of crop protection, and it gives us more
flexibility," said Stemme, who, like many U.S. farmers, is planting
bioengineered crops like never before.
Thirty-three percent of U.S. corn acres, 44 percent of the soybean crop
55 percent of cotton fields this year will be filled with plants that have
altered to fight pests and/or tolerate weedkillers. Monsanto's technology
accounts for most of the new crops.
This sharp growth -- there were no commercial plantings in 1995 -- shows
that U.S. farmers believe biotechnology provides an advantage.
"Today's products offer farmers reduced costs and easier management, and
that has fueled the rapid adoption," said Richard Pottorf, chief economist
Doane Agricultural Services Co. of St. Louis.
But behind the growth lurk serious issues that experts say could
fence-sitters from trying the new technology, and send some farmers back to
standard seeds and more chemical treatments.
The reason: Protests against biotechnology in Europe have grown well
the voices of critics and have spilled into the marketplace.
Some foreign food processors and grocery chains say they won't carry food
containing any genetically engineered material. In Britain, for example,
giants Nestle and Unilever say they will avoid foods with any bioengineered
Some countries are passing laws requiring the labeling of foods
bioengineered elements. It can take as long as two years for the 15-nation
European Union to approve a genetically altered U.S. crop.
"You need the approval process in Europe to be streamlined," Pottorf
"As long as consumers are resistant, the European politicians will drag
Trade relations are starting to fray. Last month, Dan Glickman, the U.S.
Secretary of Agriculture, said that if the EU pursues an "arbitrary and
capricious" policy, the United States will complain to the World Trade
Europe's protests are causing a ripple effect here. As U.S. farmers
more crops but can't find more markets, economists warn that surpluses will
grow and prices will fall. Commodity prices for major crops now hover at
frighteningly low levels.
"The export market is a very important part in our life," said Stemme,
Chesterfield farmer, who also has increased his planting of bioengineered
that repels a major pest. "We have to make sure crops will be accepted
if we want to market globally."
From what he has seen so far, Stemme doubts that he will cut back on
bioengineered crops. "You have to remain flexible in agriculture and go with
the flow," said Stemme, more concerned with today's weather than next fall's
political climate. "You have to plant what the market wants."
The European backlash has become so serious that farm trade groups, which
vigorously support biotech crops, are warning members about the economic and
political facts of life.
"This will be a test year for biotechnology," said Scott McFarland,
of industry relations for the National Corn Growers Association. "If we
two-tier pricing system in the U.S. for genetically modified organisms and
genetically-modified organisms, you will see a departure from that
Giant Archer Daniels Midland Co., for example, says it will pay extra
certain type of soybean created through traditional breeding. At its
plants that produce corn for export, **ADM** won't take bioengineered corn
that hasn't been endorsed by the European Union.
But **ADM** will accept gene-altered corn at plants that serve domestic
markets. Another big processor, A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co., won't accept
any corn that hasn't received approval in Europe.
The National Corn Growers Association has launched a "Know Before You
campaign, periodically filling its Internet site with information about
grain processors will accept biotech corn and which types of altered corn
been approved by the EU.
"We have seen growers return their seed because they don't want to take a
risk," McFarland said. "The companies have been very cooperative in letting
them return the seed."
His group expects U.S. farmers to grow 78 million acres of corn this
including 25 million acres of genetically engineered crops. About 6 million
acres contain biotech corn that hasn't been approved by the EU.
U.S. corn exports to the EU dropped by 96 percent from the 1996-97
1997-98. The EU usually represents 5 percent of American corn exports; now
accounts for less than 1 percent.
Monsanto has established toll-free numbers for farmers, alerting them to
U.S. grain elevators that will accept genetically engineered corn for
Pointing out that 80 percent of U.S. corn is used domestically and 61
percent is devoted to animal feed, Monsanto has identified 1,500 elevators
will take biotech corn that hasn't been approved by the EU countries.
Meanwhile, the American Soybean Association isn't taking any chances with
what it sees as a deteriorating export climate for genetically engineered
For the first time, the ASA is telling farmers to consider segregating
bioengineered beans from traditional beans, which is an expensive and time-
"We believe there may be niche markets available in the fall because of
labeling laws in Europe and some of the Asian countries," said Bob
ASA spokesman. "The size of the niche market is a big unknown right now."
He said the ASA isn't discouraging farmers from buying Roundup Ready
soybeans, the only bioengineered beans on the market.
"The biggest potential hazard for soybeans is politics," added Kim Nill,
ASA's deputy director of international marketing.
"We are much very pro-biotechnology but we are also very much in favor of
respecting laws of other countries," said Nill.
One company, AgrEvo, won't market its biotech soybeans because they don't
have EU approval. Its beans are genetically altered to tolerate Liberty
The EU, which has approved Roundup Ready beans, is the biggest foreign
of American soybeans. The EU accounted for 32 percent, or $2.3 billion, of
U.S. soybean exports in 1997.