Today's feature from the LDN Spring FARM OUTLOOK

Are GM seeds hurting the market?

By Jan Youngquist

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[April 07, 2014]  With today's research and technology development, improved transportation opportunities, and a global market more open to trade, the American farmer has unprecedented choices and opportunity in how and what crops to produce.

When it comes to crop and seed selection, the savviest farmers not only consider locale, soil conditions, costs and long-range schedule, but also factor against what happened the year before and current market forecasts.

Crop figures

According to 2013 figures, the U.S. was the leading exporter of corn, representing 33.8 percent, with 1,457 million bushels, followed by Brazil at 19.2 percent, Ukraine at 16.5 percent and Argentina at 12.8 percent, for a total of 82.3 percent of the global market.

Markets the U.S. exported corn to in order of most to least: Japan, 270 million bushels; Mexico, 180 million bushels; and China, 95 million bushels. Other markets taking U.S. corn: Venezuela, Taiwan, Canada, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Jamaica and other nations.

Of the 95,365,000 acres of corn planted in the U.S. in 2013, 90 percent were in biotech seed. Of this figure, 67,709,000 acres, or 71 percent, were planted in stacked traits, 14 percent in herbicide-tolerant and 5 percent in insect-resistant traits.

The same as corn, more than 90 percent of U.S. soybeans are raised with seeds enhanced through biotechnology.

Only 10 percent of corn and soybeans brought to market today are not genetically modified. Farmers opting to enter the non-GM niche market may be paid a premium to offset the extra handling costs.

Exports

The expanded export markets, which have increased U.S. agricultural product movement, have been a mutual benefit to other countries and to the global economy. However, what could hurt everyone would be if U.S. biotech products would continue to show up in foreign markets where they have not yet been approved.

Several months ago China began regularly testing its imports and has been finding an unapproved corn trait (MIR162) that came out in the U.S. last year. As of February, China had rejected more than 661,000 tons of Viptera-tainted corn. Viptera is engineered to fight corn rootworm and has been awaiting Beijing approval for two years.

Now, in 2014, its sister product, Duracade, also not approved by China, is entering the U.S. commercial market.

The National Grain and Feed Association, North American Export Grain Association, and other trade and export industry leaders have expressed strong concerns about the unapproved products that have been found in U.S. exports.

The NAEGA and NGFA are calling on all levels of the ag industry to respond to its stewardship responsibilities: "Within the U.S. grain and oilseed handling and marketing system, each purchaser or handler makes its own determination as to whether to accept various commodity crops including those produced from biotechnology-enhanced seeds."

The International Soy Growers Alliance will meet with Chinese government officials March 26-28 "to discuss food security and mutually beneficial trading agreements and work to prevent potential trade disruptions." Five countries that make up the ISGA Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and the United States represent more than 90 percent of global soybean, soybean meal and soy oil exports. The American Soybean Association and the United Soybean Board represent the U.S. in the ISGA.

Like corn, some GM soybeans are not yet approved for trade in some countries. Biotech soybeans have had limited introduction in the last 15 years. However, industry experts now say that the pipeline is moving quickly. Numerous biotech soybeans are moving toward commercialization.

According to the United Soybean Board: "Significant delays in regulatory approval may impact local markets that depend on U.S. soybeans. For example, U.S. soy meal, as a feed ingredient, plays a key role in the European livestock market. If U.S. soybeans were not available for import, the result may cause significant economic impact to key local markets."

On Feb. 21, Archer Daniels Midland Co. said that it would not be accepting Duracade crops. In further communications on March 5, ADM representative Jackie Anderson said: "Because of the importance of exports to American agriculture, ADM will not accept, against any export or domestic processing contract, any commodity that contains the Duracade trait, unless it is approved in all of our major export markets. For now, we reserve the right to test deliveries and decline those that contain Duracade.

"As for Viptera, if producers or suppliers intend to deliver to our interior elevators any product containing that trait, we ask that they notify us ahead of time.

"Wide-scale planting of traits that aren't approved by key importing countries would diminish the competitiveness of American grain and feed exports. To help ensure the continued strength of U.S. agriculture, we're all farmers, elevators, processors and exporters well served by making certain that the crops and products we deliver are acceptable in key export markets."

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ADM is recommending that farmers confirm that the seed they intend to plant this spring is approved for all major export markets, including China.

"If it's not, we'd encourage them to check with their seed sales representative to see if their order can be exchanged for seeds that are approved for global use," Anderson says. "We recognize it's an extra step, but we're confident it's in the best interests of everyone involved in U.S. agriculture."

What should a Logan County farmer do if considering entering a crop in global export market?

Today, the decision of whether the crop is being grown for the domestic market or as an export is another factor in the farmer's choice of seed. The National Corn Growers Association's "Know Before You Grow" program has made it quick and easy to cross-check if a biotech corn hybrid is accepted in various export markets.

When handling traits not accepted for all markets, follow seed agreements and practice good stewardship: Keep good records, clean equipment, and use open and clear communications when going to market.

At Elkhart Grain Elevator, general manager Don Ludwig said: "We don't like to tell our growers they can't grow something. We like to tell them, if they want to grow something, we'll do what we can to work with them. We just need to know what they are bringing in."

In further support of the decisions afforded the farmer, Ludwig added: "Today, it is more the way we farm: what kind of tillage practice, insecticide and weed control in conjunction with GMO traits. We like to leave it up to the farmer what they plant."

According to a report released by the USDA in February 2014:

  • The price of genetically engineered soybean and corn seeds grew by about 50 percent in real terms (adjusted for inflation) between 2001 and 2010.

  • The yield advantage of Bt corn over conventional seed has become larger in recent years as new Bt traits have been incorporated and stacked traits have become available.

  • Planting Bt corn continues to be more profitable, as measured by net returns, than planting conventional seeds.

As for soybeans, according to an Iowa State University study: "Without biotechnology, global food prices would be nearly 10 percent higher for soybeans."

[By JAN YOUNGQUIST]

Sources cited:

 


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