Source: Council for Biotechnology Information



In the United States, despite heavy spring rains and flooding that delayed the growing season, the Department of Agriculture estimates increased production of corn and soybeans. This is due in part to the contribution of agricultural biotechnology, which has helped improve farm yields since it was introduced in the U.S. in 1995. This year's corn crop is on target to be the second largest ever, behind only last year's record haul. The U.S. soybean crop is expected to be the fourth largest ever.



Reacting to concerns regarding crop shortages that sparked unrest in some countries and high prices for food in markets around the globe, many nations this year began to acknowledge the benefits that biotechnology offers agriculture. In July, the United Kingdom's former chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, stated, "There is only one technology likely to deliver [the yield increases needed] and that is [agricultural biotechnology]." And in October, Italy's Welfare and Health Minister, Maurizio Sacconi, called on that country to lift a ban on growing genetically modified crops.



Many sub-Saharan countries in Africa, where 30% of the population is under-nourished, are considering embracing agricultural biotechnology in an effort to address the need for increased yields and limited access to a reliable supply of water. South African scientists have approved trials of sorghum genetically enhanced to improve the digestibility and nutritional content of the coarse grain, which thrives in arid soils.



Several studies this year demonstrated increased support by consumers for food grown using biotechnology. An Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC) survey found that in light of the region's growing demand for high volumes of quality food, consumers in China, India, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea are ready to accept foods produced using agricultural biotechnology. Biotech crops are also gaining acceptance in Europe, according to a study issued by EuropaBio.



The year was also one of advances in the development of new crop varieties using biotechnology. In June, researchers stated that biotechnology in agriculture will play a key role in increasing corn and soybean yields by 40 percent over the next decade and overcoming climate challenges like crop-killing droughts.



In Asia, researchers announced that genetically modified Golden Rice, which is meant to improve nutrition in the developing world, may be available to farmers by 2011.



Biotechnology remains one of the greatest income-neutral technologies available to wealthy and poor farmers alike, requiring no significant additional investment in new tools or technology, yet increasing yields and reducing crops lost to pests and disease. According to a report released this year, among the 23 countries growing agricultural biotechnology crops, half are less developed countries. 11 of the 12 million farmers growing biotech crops are small-holder, resource poor farmers.



Agricultural biotechnology is also being recognized for its environmental benefits. Herbicide-tolerant crops contribute significantly to soil conservation because more farmers employ no-till, thus reducing erosion. In China, farmers growing biotech rice reduced their pesticide use by nearly 80 percent and more than half of them used no pesticide at all. More than 10% of farmers growing conventional rice showed symptoms of pesticide poisoning, while none of the farmers growing pest resistant rice did.



Agricultural biotechnology holds even more promise for a sustainable future in 2009.