Wire Service: RTna (Reuters North America)
Date: Thu, Jan 13, 2000
By Randy Fabi
HOUSTON (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 Thursday.
Reuters surveyed 400 U.S. farmers this week at the annual meeting of
the nation's largest farm organization, the American Farm Bureau
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
"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.
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.
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.