CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A Nebraska farmer touted environmental and
production benefits of integrating biotechnology on his farm during a recent
Steve Wellman of Syracuse, Neb., was among the panelists at
the Illinois Soybean Association-hosted International Biotechnology Symposium.
More than 200 biotechnology regulators, government
officials, industry and organization representatives, international trade
experts and farmers from 13 counties attended the event.
Wellman, American Soybean Association chairman, first saw
biotech crops in action years ago when he hosted on-farm trials of the Roundup
Ready trait before it was commercialized.
“We couldn’t harvest, but had the opportunity to utilize the
Roundup and see the benefits of the weed control,” he said.
“It was really easy for me to identify how it was going to
fit into our operation, especially since we were moving toward all no-till. It
became quickly obvious that Roundup Ready soybeans were going to play a role in
making us more efficient in making that transition toward no-till
About five years ago, he hosted an on-farm trial of the
“We couldn’t take it to harvest, but it was evident of the
quality and the improvement in the DroughtGard. It was able to utilize the
moisture better and be able to have higher production when we don’t have
sufficient moisture,” he said.
“I believe that biotechnology is the base that drove a lot
of the improvements here in the U.S. and our ability to utilize conservation
Wellman referred to a report issued in 2009 by the Council
for Agricultural Science and Technology that concluded “today’s commercialized
biotechnology-derived soybean crops yield significant environmental benefits
primarily by supporting conservation tillage on more fields than previously
He agrees with that, adding the CAST report noted
biotechnology use results in a 93 percent decrease in soil erosion, the
preservation of 1 billion tons of topsoil, 70 percent reduction of herbicide and
pesticide runoff, 148 million kilogram reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, 80
percent reduction in phosphorous contamination of surface water, annual soil
evaporation loss reduction and 50 percent less fuel usage.
“It seem to me like it really all comes down to a
sustainability message and the message to produce more with less resources, and
I believe that biotechnology is the driver to reach the goals that we have of
sustainable agriculture production,” he said.
Wellman also referred to a 2012 study conducted by Stanford
University that found that advances in high-yield agriculture have prevented
massive amounts of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere, the equivalent
of 590 billion tons of carbon dioxide.
“And in the end, the yield intensification has lessened the
pressure to clear land. We do have a limit on land availability in the U.S. and
if we want to compete internationally with production we have to make better use
of the land we have,” he said.
“The improvement of crop yields should therefore be
prominent among the portfolio strategies to reduce global greenhouse gas
emissions,” according to the Stanford study.
“We’ve faced a lot of discussion here in the U.S. and in the
European Union and with some of our customers that we market to about the
sustainability of production and can we demonstrate how sustainable we are. I
believe we can, and the base of that has been biotechnology,” Wellman said.
He noted the current portfolio of traits, some of which are
on hold awaiting EU approval. One of the traits on hold is the high oleic trait
that has been in the approval process with EU for about six years.
“What we have done here in the U.S. is we haven’t taken a
soybean trait to full production until we have approval in all the markets we
export to, so to have a trait overseas that’s awaiting approval for six years
really inhibits our ability as U.S. producers to take advantage and utilize
those new traits and see the benefits of those new traits,” he said.
“I was really disappointed in the recent announcement by
(Agriculture) Secretary (Tom) Vilsack and the administration that they are going
to require a full environmental impact study which will delay the approval of
the 2,4-D and dicamba resistance traits for at least two years.
“As farmers deal with some weed resistance of herbicides,
glyphosate, in particular, those two tools are going to be very advantageous for
U.S. producers. It comes at a bad time.
“We’ve had weed resistance to herbicides long before
biotechnology, so to me it’s not a biotech problem to have weed resistance. I
believe biotechnology is a solution to solving this weed resistance and another
tool we can use.”
These efforts to sustainably increase production on the
acres currently available is necessary to meet increasing global demand due to a
growing population and increased income, Wellman said.
“Specifically on corn, between 2000 and 2030 it’s predicted
that the demand for corn will increase 76 percent and the demand for soybeans
will increase 125 percent globally, so that will be another 70 to 80 million
metric tons of soybeans required per year the next decade,” he said.
“To me, biotechnology, increasing production agriculture and
sustainable agriculture go together. I believe that biotechnology has been the
trigger for our advancements, and it will be a future to production agriculture
to continue to be sustainable and to improve upon that.”