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2-Plants: U.S. farmers plan decline in biotech crops



-------------------------- GENET-news ---------------------------

TITLE:  U.S. farmers plan decline in biotech crops
SOURCE: Reuters, Poll, by Randy Fabi
DATE:   January 13, 2000

----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------


U.S. farmers plan decline in biotech crops

HOUSTON, Jan 13 (Reuters) - U.S. farmers plan to cut back sharply
their plantings of genetically modified soybeans, corn and cotton
this year, partly in response to a European backlash against
bioengineered foods, a Reuters straw poll said on Thursday.
Reuters surveyed 400 U.S. farmers this week at the annual meeting
of the nation's largest farm organisation, the American Farm
Bureau Federation.

Responses showed farmers were worried that the European Union's
resistance to gene-spliced foods might translate into lower
prices and demand for their crops. They also said they were
concerned about demands by U.S. environmental and consumer groups
for special labels on foods made from the crops. U.S. farmers'
decisions whether to plant the crops this spring could be pivotal
to the future of the biotech seed industry.


15 PERCENT DROP IN ROUNDUP READY SOYBEANS

Participants in the Reuters poll said they planned reductions of
15 percent in sowings of RoundUp Ready soybeans, 22 percent for
RoundUp Ready corn, 24 percent for Bt corn and 26 percent for Bt
cotton. The only exception to the overall decline in biotech
plantings was a 5 percent increase in planned sowings of RoundUp
Ready cotton. RoundUp Ready varieties, developed by Monsanto Co.
, have increased tolerance for the RoundUp weedkiller, while Bt
varieties produce a natural pesticide that reduces insect damage.
Monsanto, Novartis AG , DuPont Co. , AstraZeneca Plc and Dow
Chemical Co. are among the major makers of gene-spliced seeds.

"The most critical year for biotechnology agriculture will be
this year. Unfortunately, farmers are between a rock and a hard
place as the market becomes more risky," said Charles Sloan, a
soybean farmer from Oklahoma. Sloan planted 800 acres of
genetically modified corn in 1999 but said he planned none this
year.

During the past three years, American growers eagerly embraced
gene-spliced crops as a way to control pest damage, with
plantings showing an exponential increase each year. In 1999,
U.S. farmers planted genetically modified seeds on more than half
of the soybean and cotton acreage, and one-third of the corn
crop, according to U.S. Agriculture Department figures.


SEGREGATION, COST AMONG FARMER CONCERNS

Farmers surveyed cited several factors for reconsidering whether
to plant GM crops, including:

* consumers worried about safety.
* European and Asian buyers offering higher premiums for non-GM
  crops.
* international buyers requiring the costly and time-consuming
  segregation of GM and non-GM commodities.
* biotech seeds priced too high for an increasingly volatile
  market.
* relatively light insect damage to U.S. fields last year.

"I don't think anyone knows what to expect for GM crops in the
near-future. Everyone is just covering their butts to make sure
they don't lose their shirt," said Gary Voorhis, a corn farmer
from Indiana, who plans to plant less Bt corn.

Farm groups had mixed reactions to the results. Stewart Reeve,
spokesman for the National Corn Growers Association, said he
wasn't surprised, attributing the decline in biotech corn to
lower incidents of insect damage. "The corn belt experienced a
very light corn borer problem last year, so now farmers probably
don't feel the need to pay extra for biotech seeds this season,"
Reeve said.


SEED COMPANIES SAY TOO EARLY TO PREDICT

Monsanto, a pioneer in developing biotech seeds, said it was
premature to conclude plantings will decline. Market research
indicates "seed sales will be consistent with 1999," said
spokesman Dan Verakis. Most farmers do not buy their seed until
closer to spring planting time, he added.

The American Soybean Association said a combination of anti
biotech publicity in the Midwest and increasing grain purchases
by foreign buyers could explain the possible decline. Marc
Curtis, the group's president, said he was surprised with the 15
percent decline in Roundup Ready soybeans indicated by the straw
poll. He had expected an increase in that crop this year. RoundUp
Ready soybeans have been welcomed in farm country, despite the
higher cost of the seed, because they mean lower losses to pests,
higher yields and a "cleaner" crop that can bring a higher price,
he said.


CONSUMERS HAVE YET TO SEE BENEFITS

But the benefits for consumers have not been as clear, farm
leaders lament. The next generation of biotech crops being
developed will offer things like higher levels of nutrients and
result in more healthful diets. "The point is, it's starting out
helping farmers... Until it starts benefiting consumers, there
are going to be objections," said Dean Kleckner, 14-year
president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Farmers
interviewed by Reuters for the straw poll were randomly selected
at the American Farm Bureau convention, which tends to attract
relatively large and sophisticated growers. The Reuters straw
poll did not attempt to weight responses by state, size of farm,
or other criteria. The 400 farmers surveyed for the poll grow
crops on a total of 438,614 acres. Nearly 8 percent of the
farmers surveyed said they had not yet decided whether to grow
more or less genetically modified crops this year. 


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