The numbers are in, and as predicted back during spring's corn-planting frenzy, it seems that the ethanol boom has been a boon for genetically engineered corn.
On July 5th the USDA's Economic Research Service released the 2007 stats on the adoption of genetically engineered varieties in corn, cotton and soybeans. Of all the corn planted this year in the US, 73 percent was GE--that's compared to only 25 percent of the crop in 2000. Of course, adoption has been increasing steadily over the past seven years, averaging increases of 6 percent each year, but this year the graph spiked upward by 12 percent over 2006's crop. And that's the average. In the Plains, the numbers were even higher: South Dakota led the country with 93 percent of its crop in genetically modified varieties, followed by North Dakota with 88 percent and Kansas with 82 percent.
Because of the ethanol boom, farmers planted 19 percent more corn than last year. The GE portion--at 73 percent of the entire crop--amounts to 67,817,000 acres, or slightly less than the combined land mass of Illinois and Iowa. Within that space are approximately 2 trillion genetically engineered corn plants.
Numbers of this magnitude are hard to grasp. What's not hard to see, however, is the profit--and power--this grants to those behind ag biotech. By this I mean not corn farmers, many of whom are now struggling through drought, but rather Monsanto and like corporations--the true beneficiaries of agricultural biotechnology, which sell seed and chemicals. In its third quarter earnings report, Monsanto reported record sales of $2.8 billion, 23 percent higher than a year ago, reflecting the boom in GE seeds and herbicides. Earnings jumped 71 percent.
"Strong customer demand for ... branded corn seed products contributed to a sixth consecutive year of market share gains in the U.S. corn seed market," the company said. "The increase could be as large as 4 or 5 percentage points, pending final returns, which would be the largest historical one-year gain for Monsanto brands in the corn seed market."
Monsanto's board just approved $610 million to expand its U.S. corn production facilities over the next three years - which means that this year's record corn crop is likely to be eclipsed in the near future.