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News Article

Bt Maize "Helps Small Farmers in Spain"

A economic study reports that small farmers in North East Spain are achieving environmental benefits as well as higher yields, better quality and increased income by growing Bt maize.

A economic study reports that small farmers in North East Spain are achieving environmental benefits as well as higher yields, better quality and increased income by growing Bt maize. Bt maize contains the Bacillus thuringiensis endotoxin gene, which protects the crop against attack by the European Corn Borer (ECB), which can lead to yield losses of 15% or more.

The report "The farm level impact of using Bt maize in Spain" was produced by the Brookes West consultancy with funding from the industry group Agricultural Biotechnology Europe.

Spanish farmers as well as other Southern European farmers have suffered from the ECB for generations. But currently Spain is the only country in the European Union where GM crops are grown commercially. Most Spanish farmers do not use any active form of treatment for dealing with the pest. This is mainly because the larval damage is hidden, heavy infestations are unpredictable, checking the fields multiple times each summer takes time and skill, the difficulty of timing spraying and the perceived high costs of the treatment. Genetically modified insect resistant maize provides a new management tool for all corn producers to increase yields where ECB is a problem, says the report.

The average farm size in North East Spain is just 50 hectares, with maize only being grown on part of the area. On average, these small-scale farmers received an increased income of €150 (per hectare) compared with growing conventional maize. Their enthusiastic uptake of the GM maize confirms that the benefits of this technology are not limited to large farmlands, in fact delivering pest control can benefit all scales of farming, argues the report.

Graham Brookes, author of the report, said "Many people don’t realise that GM crops are being successfully grown in the EU. In this North Eastern region of Spain, over 20,000 hectares of Bt maize has been grown every year since 1998". This represents over 4% of the total Spanish maize crop, and it is estimated that this would rise to 36% if the Bt trait would be freely available in all major maize varieties. Thus far, further expansion has been restricted through a voluntary agreement by the seed supplier Syngenta. If use was extended, a conservative estimate of the average improvement in yield (a range of 1.8 to 2.5%) suggests an increased crop of 88,000 to 125,000 tonnes. This would give the farmers an extra €11 – 15 million in income at current prices.

The Bt maize grown in Spain is sold through the usual channels for animal feed use. The supply chain has not seen a need for segregation, and normal commodity prices apply. Indeed, grain quality is perceived to be higher because of the lower levels of mycotoxins, says the report. There is a cost premium of €18-19 per hectare for the GM seed, but this is more than offset by the increased yield and savings in spraying costs. For farmers who do not normally spray to control pests, a yield increase of only 1.5% is necessary to cover the increased cost of seed. Even in areas of low to medium pest pressure, this is likely to be exceeded in a significant proportion of crop years.

Article details

  • Date
  • 27 September 2002
  • Subject(s)
  • Genetic engineering/ modification
  • Plant and animal genes and genomics