9 November 2011
As the world focused on the significant announcement that the world’s population had passed 7 billion last week, another important milestone also occurred this month which is an important corresponding figure. Somewhere in the Southern hemisphere, perhaps in Australia, a farmer planted a significant moment in agricultural history. This innovative farmer planted the world’s 3 billionth acre of GM crops. This equates to around 1.2 billion hectares, an area nearly twice the size of Australia!
The American not for profit group ‘Truth about Trade and Technology’ has been tracking worldwide government data figures on biotech-crop acreage and have recently released this momentous figure. It is momentous because GM crops are now a well established part of the solution to the challenges of feeding our current and projected population, to ensuring that the future generations won’t grow up in a climate of food insecurity.
In meeting the challenge of feeding this increasing population, the plant science industry has created innovative technologies, such as GM crops, that provide farmers with the means to boost yields, increase farm income and protect natural resources.
Pests, diseases and weeds are long enemies of the farmer and their crops, however GM crops provide the benefits that make these common challenges part of history. Farmers are switching to GM crops because they make so much sense. However, for these tools to meet the challenge of feeding the next billion people, all nations must ensure farmers have access to these sustainable, safe, science-based technologies.
GM crops also have huge benefits to our relieving the pressure on our environmental systems. If GM crops had not been used to produce food, feed and fibre from 1996-2009, the world would have had to convert an area that is roughly the size of NSW to farmland in order to produce the same amount of food. GM crops removed around 18 billion kg of CO2 (or 8 million cars) from the atmosphere globally in 2009 through reduced fuel use and increased soil carbon capture.
The ‘Truth about Trade and Technology’ group’s report shares some incredible data showing that biotechnology has increased global farm production dramatically. Soybean harvests are 83 million tons greater than they would be without genetic modification. Corn harvests are up even more, by 130 million tons and Australia’s farmers are already enjoying the significant benefits of GM cotton and canola.
Over the last two years around 1.5 million hectares of GM crops have been grown in Australia. This rapid increase equates to nearly half the total plantings since GM crop cultivation began in 1996.
The milestone planting of our 3 billionth acre of GM crop shows that GM is already a crucial and growing part of modern agriculture, but it is critical that agricultural public policy settings continue to ensure that all farmers have access to the latest technologies so that agriculture continues to grow and achieve global food security.