Research Shows Environmental Benefits of Biotech Cotton

By Kristin Danley-Greiner
January 11, 2001 AgWeb

Two new comprehensive studies by leading global agricultural economists demonstrate that Monsanto's biotech cotton provides significant economic advantages for growers and important benefits to the environment, including significantly reducing the use of synthetic chemical insecticides.

The two analyses will be presented this week at the National Cotton Council's Beltwide Cotton Conference in Anaheim, Calif. The studies demonstrate the benefits of biotechnology throughout the world.

"This is a case where you have very clear and demonstrable benefits – both to the farmer and to the environment," said Graciela Elena, Ingeniera Agronoma of the Instituto Nacional de Technologia Agropecuaria (INTA), an agricultural research and Extension institute based in Argentina.

Biotech cotton contains a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a common soil microbe, allowing it to naturally protect itself against insect pests, thereby requiring fewer applications of chemical insecticides. Monsanto produces insect-protected cotton under the trade name Bollgard. Monsanto also produces Roundup Ready cotton, which is developed through biotechnology to be tolerant to Roundup herbicide.

In her research, Elena found that in the leading cotton-growing regions of Argentina, biotech cotton required almost 64 percent fewer applications of insecticide when compared to its conventional counterpart.

A second study by Dr. Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, an associate professor of agribusiness at the University of Missouri, also demonstrated that U.S. cotton farmers have embraced biotech cotton, because of significant reductions in the amount of insecticide required in their cotton crops.

The studies also found that adoption of biotech cotton encourages the adoption of conservation tillage practices, which reduce soil loses in agriculture and can reduce water pollution. "There is a trend emerging that shows biotech crops, especially cotton, significantly reduce the amount of chemical insecticides that must be sprayed to control insect pests," said Dr. Kalaitzandonakes. "At the same time, half of the acres planted with Roundup Ready cotton are converted into conservation tillage acres, leading to further environmental benefits. These are very tangible benefits to everyone who cares for a sustainable landscape and clean water resources."

The trend of reduced pesticide use in cotton as a result of biotechnology is likely to continue, the researchers believe. A recently released independent study by the New Jersey-based consulting company, Kline & Company called "Biotech 2009 Business Analysis" indicates that biotech cotton will reduce the use of insecticides by 30 percent in the next nine years, from 11.9 million pounds in 2000 to 8.3 million pounds in 2009.

"When you reduce the amount of insecticide growers are using to control pests, you are able to reduce their input costs," said Dave Rhylander, director of marketing for the South for Monsanto. "Additionally, the insect control afforded by biotech cotton boosts overall yields, creating a distinct economic advantage for cotton growers using biotechnology."

In Argentina, Elena's research showed that the average cotton grower had a $65 per hectare advantage (approximately $26 per acre) using biotech cotton versus conventional cotton. Similar economic advantages have been found in the United States from the use of biotech cotton. "It would be inappropriate to dismiss these economic advantages as trivial," said Kalaitzandonakes. "Especially in a time of low commodity prices in the United States, this savings can make an appreciable difference for many growers."

Bollgard was commercially introduced in the United States in 1996 and Roundup Ready cotton was introduced in 1997. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that biotech cotton was planted on more than 9.5 million acres in the United States. For the 2000 growing season, acres planted to Monsanto's Bollgard technology grew more than 42 percent over 1999.

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