NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fewer Farmers Buying Genetically Altered Seeds

November 19, 1999

Midwest farmers are facing a hard choice as they place orders for seeds this month: should they purchase biotech seeds or standard varieties. Although they favor raising genetically-altered crops, they are mindful that there may be a consumer backlash come harvest time.

That has executives at biotechnology firms worried.

  • Since the new seeds became available in 1996, sales have jumped to $1 billion as of last spring -- but seed dealers expect sales to drop 20 percent or more this year.
  • Although more than half the cropland in Nebraska was sown with the altered seeds this past growing season, researchers at the state's university were stunned at the results of a survey which showed that only 36 percent of farmers favored using the modified seeds this season.
  • In just four years, nearly 70 million acres of Midwestern cropland -- an area equal to all the farmland in Illinois and Iowa -- were switched to genetically-modified crops.
  • Now, seed company executives are worried about a shortage of conventional, unmodified seed.

Farmers tend to be big fans of biotechnology. Before its arrival, they often had to cover their fields with pesticides so powerful they couldn't enter them for days afterward. But when the new seeds became available, pesticide sales in some localities dropped 20 percent.

Nevertheless, anti-technology activists have succeeded in alarming European food shoppers, and farmers are afraid those concerns may dry up the market for altered products in the U.S. -- even though there is no shred of evidence such products are harmful. But as one farmer says, "Even when the customer is wrong, the customer is right."

Source: Scott Kilman, "Once Quick Converts, Midwest Farmers Lose Faith in Biotech Crops," Wall Street Journal, November 19, 1999.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues