The global area planted to GM crop varieties in 2015, the 20th year that the technology has been commercially available, fell by 1%, reports the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) in its latest annual survey. It is the first time over the two decades that the overall rate of growth has fallen.
The global hectarage in 2015, planted by 28 countries, is estimated at 179.7 million hectares, a 1% fall from the 181.5m hectares planted in 2014. The ISAAA attributes the marginal decrease to the current low prices for commodity crops such as soyabean, corn, cotton and canola/osr. It believes a return to improved crop prices will see further growth, helped by continued improvements in biotech crops, with new varieties in the pipeline and the longer term potential of new breeding technologies in developing new traits and products.
ISAAA Annual Brief (51) shows that the US is still the lead adopter of biotech crops with 70.9m hectares, (39% of the global total), despite a 2.2m hectare annual drop. 92% of its maize, 94% of the soyabeans and 94% of cotton in the US are biotech varieties. Canada, which ranks 5th in the world with 11m hectares of GM crops, saw a 400,000ha area drop.
The fall in North America was partially offset by increases in South America. Brazil, the second largest grower, added 2m hectares to total 44.2m hectares, or 25% of the global total. Third placed Argentina saw a 200,000ha increase to 24.5m hectares. India ranks fourth with 11.6 million hectares of Bt cotton, unchanged from 2014, but representing 95% of its cotton crop.
Spain remains the only European country with a major commercial GM crop – an insect resistant maize – with 107,700 hectares of the biotech variety, although this was an 18% fall year-on-year. GM accounted for 28% of its maize crop (31% in 2014) Four other EU member states - Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania - grew a further 9,000 ha of biotech Bt maize between them.
The ISAAA says that the EU decreases in Bt maize was in line with an overall fall in maize plantings, but also points to “significant disincentives for farmers, confronted with bureaucratic and onerous reporting of intended plantings of Bt maize”. While it notes that 19 of the 28 EU member states voted to opt out of growing biotech crops in October 2015, “importantly, all five countries currently growing Bt maize voted to continue planting so that they can benefit from the significant advantages that biotech crops offer”.
Stacked traits accounted for 33% of the global total, increasing from 51.4m hectares (28%) in 2014 to 58.5mhectares in 2015. This was largely due to a rise in the use of a Bt/Herbicide tolerant soybean variety in Brazil (12.9m hectares) and smaller areas in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The survey shows that 14 countries planted biotech crops with two or more traits in 2015, of which 11 were developing countries. For example, Vietnam planted a stacked biotech Bt/HT maize variety as its first biotech crop in 2015.