WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With ethanol demand at record highs and existing strong food use of corn, some experts are wondering where the extra corn will come from. A new study released today by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (National Center) suggests that biotechnology plays an important role in meeting this increased demand for corn production.

According to the study, U.S. farmers gained an additional 8.3 billion pounds of yield last year due to biotech crops, including an extra 7.6 billion pounds of corn production, a 29 percent increase over 2004's harvest.

Since the commercialization of plant biotechnology in the late 1990s, corn production has benefited by an extra 39 billion pounds of yield, equivalent to 1.9 billion gallons of ethanol production. These continued yield increases will be a key factor in meeting future demand as corn prices hit 10-year highs and corn used for ethanol production is predicted to jump 34 percent in 2007.

"The study indicates we have been able to make significant advances in corn production through biotechnology-derived varieties," says Jill Long Thompson, chief executive officer of the National Center and an Indiana farmer. "Energy independence is imperative for our nation's future. Utilizing renewable sources like corn for energy needs helps achieve these goals and supports our nation's farmers."

Further, the report indicates biotech crops helped farmers increase their income by $2 billion last year, while reducing the amount of pesticides used 69.7 million pounds on the 123 million acres planted to the biotech-enhanced crops. In addition to herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant corn, the report evaluated the impact of herbicide-tolerant soybean, herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant cotton, herbicide-tolerant canola and virus-resistant squash and papaya.

Sujatha Sankula, study author and lead researcher for the National Center, expects these income gains to grow in the second decade of biotech crop production.

"In 2005, just more than a third of our country's corn acres were planted to biotech varieties. With over half the corn crop nationally benefiting from biotechnology-derived insect-resistant varieties in 2006, we expect the production and income increases to grow accordingly in the year ahead," Sankula says.

Further, as cellulosic ethanol production comes online, farmers will be able to sell two crops from each field -- a food crop and a biomass energy crop. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, that will add an additional $5 billion to farm income each year by 2025.

"Since biotech crops came to market a decade ago, they have helped ensure a bountiful harvest for American consumers and provided extra income for farmers," Sankula says. "Farmers have been able to continually expand corn production each year, and they will continue to do so in the future. New biotech corn varieties with resistance to drought are being field tested, as well as a variety that will improve the efficiency of ethanol production. These enhances will help continue to drive the production trend upward, helping meet the needs for both food and fuel production."

While Americans consume only about 5 percent of the U.S. corn crop as food, biotechnology-derived crops are also making an impact on our every day food supply. About half of our nation's papaya crop and 12 percent of the squash production are protected from devastating viruses through biotechnology, thereby increasing yields for consumers and incomes for farmers.

The study is an annual update of a 2002 report by the National Center that analyzes, quantifies and documents the agronomic, economic and environmental impacts of biotech crops on U.S. agriculture. The complete study, "Quantification of the Impacts on U.S. Agriculture of Biotechnology Derived Crops Planted in 2005," is available on the Internet at www.ncfap.org.

The National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy is a private, nonprofit, non-advocacy research organization in Washington, D.C. Researchers at the center conduct studies in four program areas: biotechnology, pesticides, U.S. farm and food policy and international trade and development. The National Center receives funding from public and private institutions, including government agencies, philanthropic organizations, private corporations and others.

SOURCE: National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy via PR Newswire.