Did you know that the total land devoted to agriculture around the globe is 20,000,000 square miles? That’s more than five times the area of the United States. The availability of farmland is essential to agricultural production. And, yet, the availability of new land suitable for crop production is limited, partly because farmland is sometimes considered more valuable when converted into urban and suburban developments. Some estimate that we are losing agricultural land by up to 40 acres an hour.
With an estimated world population of 9.7 billion by 2050, farmers will need to produce up to 70 percent more food than they do today to satisfy global demand. GMOs help farmers to use less land, fewer inputs and less energy while producing the food needed to meet this demand.
One of the key ways that genetically modified crops help to maximize resources is to minimize crop loss and optimize yields. It is estimated that between 35 and 42 percent of the world’s potential crop production is lost annually due to weeds, insects, diseases and other pests. Insect-resistant, disease-resistant and herbicide-tolerant genetically modified crops help to reduce these crop losses.
Insect-resistant technology used in cotton and corn has consistently delivered yield gains from reduced pest damage, for example. The average yield gains over the period of 1996-2014 has been more than 13 percent for insect-resistant corn and more than 17 percent for insect-resistant cotton.
Minimized crop losses help to produce greater yields, and genetically modified crops are allowing farmers to grow more on current farmland. Between 1996 and 2014, crop biotechnology was responsible for an additional 158.4 million tons of soybeans, 321.8 million tons of corn, 24.7 million tons of cotton lint and 9.2 million tons of canola without having to bring more land into agricultural production.
It is estimated that if crop biotechnology had not been available in 2014, in order to maintain current production levels would have required the planting of 51 million additional acres of crops. That means to meet 2014 production levels without the use of genetically modified seeds, farmers would have needed to plant 19 million more acres of soybean, 22 million acres of corn, nine million acres of cotton and 1.5 million acres of canola. That would be the equivalent of cultivating an additional 12 percent of the arable land in the United States.
While GMOs are not a silver bullet for solving the complex challenge of feeding a growing population, they are a proven tool for helping to increase agricultural productivity and for improving the economic and environmental sustainability of farming in the developing world.