The Corn Farmers Coalition recently published a “Corn Fact Book” full of great stats on farming and corn production. Some of my favorites:
• By 2005, the U.S. was the world’s biggest grower of biotech crops with more than half. It’s thought that global farming would have been $5 billion less without these crops. The biggest gains have been in soybeans and cotton. However, corn boosted farm income by more than $3 billion in 2005.
• Thanks in part to ag biotech, it takes 40% less land and 50% less energy to produce a bushel of corn than it did in 1987.
• Farmers grow five times as much corn as they did in the 1930s — on 20 percent less land.
• Reduced tillage and other farm management practices have reduced soil erosion 43% in 20 years.
• A farmer can save as much as 3.5 gallons of fuel an acre from no-till farming, which is possible with some biotech crops.
• The Federal Bureau of Labor statistics say that most farms employ only the farmer and perhaps a family member or a hired hand or two.
• The US produces enough corn that we can afford to export one in every five rows of corn each year and still have enough for domestic needs.
• Individuals or families own 82% of American corn farms. Another 6% are family held corporations; 11% are owned by partnerships; and the remaining handful — less than 4,000 — are owned by other types of corporations or estates, trusts and institutions.
• The average corn farm has fewer than 250 acres. Only 8% are bigger than 2,000 acres according to government statistics.
Phil Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports on newly engineered corn that researchers say “opens the way for the development of nutritionally complete” grains. African lines of white corn have been engineered by scientists in Spain to provide high levels of beta carotene, a key source of vitamin A, and significant levels of vitamin C and folate. The corn, which scientists believe could alleviate malnutrition in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, has been funded through the Spanish government and a European Union program.
Reports Brasher, “Some 250 million preschool children are deficient in vitamin A, and as many as 500,000 kids go blind each year for lack of the nutrient, according to the World Health Organization. The Rockefeller Foundation is pushing ahead with an effort to produce large amounts of a vitamin A-enriched rice, known as Golden Rice. At the World Food Prize’s Borlaug Dialogue symposium last fall, the foundation’s president, Judith Rodin, said the rice could ‘save almost 3 million children’s lives, while nourishing as many as 300 million more.’”
Greg Jaffe, a specialist in agricultural biotechnology with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, adds, “We have so many millions of people around the world who have diets that are less than ideal. We should be using all the tools available to try to improve those diets.”
“There is strong justification for trying to use technology of this sort” to address malnutrition, Stephen Howell, director of Iowa State University’s Plant Sciences Institute, said.
Recommended reading: A piece on Forbes.com by farmer Maria Gabriela Cruz. While President Obama is meeting with leaders and citizens in Europe, Cruz reminds Europeans of Obama’s support for ag bio. From the campaign trail last year Obama said, “Advances in the genetic engineering of plants have provided enormous benefits to American farmers. I believe that we can continue to modify plants safely with new genetic methods, abetted by stringent tests for environmental and health effects and by stronger regulatory oversight guided by the best available scientific advice.”