Biotech varieties were planted this year on 93% of corn acres, 97% of soybean acres, and 95% of cotton acres.

Image courtsey of Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Farmer adoption of genetically modified crop varieties is spreading beyond the well-known dominance of the major field crops of corn, soybeans, and cotton, said a USDA report. When lesser-known GM crops such as canola, potatoes, and apples are counted, about 55% of U.S. cropland is planted to GM varieties, said the Economic Research Service report.

Corn, soybean, and cotton plantings were quickly dominated by GM crops, followed by the speedy conversion of canola and sugar beet plantings to GM seeds, said the ERS report. “They are beginning to spread in alfalfa and have been planted on a small commercial scale in potato, papaya, squash, and apples.” The most common GM traits are herbicide tolerance and insect resistance.

The ERS said, “Wheat, rice, barley, oats, sorghum, peanuts, sunflower, flax, beans, sugarcane, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, and nuts are primarily grown using conventional or non-GM planting material.”

A handful of companies dominate GM seed sales, said the ERS. Development of these varieties was aided by legislation and court rulings allowing companies to patent their technology. “Prior to 1970, most crop breeding — with the important exception of hybrid corn — was done in the public sector. Private seed companies were mostly engaged in multiplication and distribution of foundation seed provided by public institutions,” it said.

According to the USDA’s Acreage report, biotech varieties were planted this year on 93% of corn acres, 97% of soybean acres, and 95% of cotton acres.