Farmers ask why GM crops perform worse in drought
The Network of Concerned Farmers, an alliance of farmers with concerns regarding genetically modified crops, are calling for research to determine why GM crops perform worse during droughts.
"There is more than enough evidence to reveal that GM crops perform worse than non-GM crops during drought conditions but this vital information is being ignored," said Julie Newman, National Spokesperson for the Network of Concerned Farmers.
"Farmers worldwide have complained that GM crops perform worse than non-GM crops during drought including GM cotton in India and Indonesia, GM soy in the United States and Brazil and GM canola in Canada. Australian farmers have even stated that they use an additional irrigation for GM cotton so it appears there is evidence that GM crops need more water," she said.
"Our Federal Minister for Agriculture is making outrageous statements wanting states to ignore economic risk and claiming we need GM crops to counter drought when reality shows GM crops perform worse in drought. Australia is known for adverse conditions and may be totally unsuitable for GM crops but nobody seems to care about this vital detail."
There has recently been a significant drop in soybean production due to the drought in Brazil. The president of the Rio Grande do Sul seed association sites 25% higher crop losses in GE soy crops as compared with conventional ones. Brazil's agricultural department estimates that yields are down 72% in Rio Grande do Sul which is the biggest adopter of Monsanto's Roundup Ready GM technology.
"Many Brazilian farmers who use Round-Up Ready soy will be thinking twice about it next year,"
said Etienne Vernet, South American Research Director of the Polaris Institute. Governor of Mato Grosso (25% of national soy production) has publicly stated that he will not plant genetically modified soy next year.
Monsanto and Bayer Cropscience withdrew from the proposed independent trials in NSW in 2004 with Bayer Cropscience stating a concern for dry conditions as a reason. Requests for further independent testing has been denied but Bayer Cropscience has been growing canola under irrigation for export to Canada under special state exemption orders.
"Farmers need trials to compare GM performance during adverse conditions and scientists need to investigate this further. Farmers have had enough of the bulldust, we need facts."
Non-GM drought tolerant varieties of wheat are being grown in Australia. Mrs Newman claims there are far better alternatives in non-GM biotechnology but some scientists are more interested in attracting corporate investment so are misleading farmers to believe all biotechnology is GM.
Contact: Julie Newman 08 98711562 or 08 98711644 or 0427 711644
At least thirty companies developing GM crops have observed DNA instability with up to 5% disruption of overall gene expression which increased or decreased the protein producing outputs of other genes. Does recombinant DNA techniques destabilise the metabolism of the plant resulting in the need for more nutrients? Does the inserted gene and perhaps other insertion-caused “hotspots” remain hyperactive and deplete the nutrients of the plant?
Further stories of interest:
GM soybean yields drop Is Monsanto's patented Roundup Ready gene responsible for a flattening of U.S. soybean yields that has cost farmers an estimated $1.28 billion?
South African report details GM cotton failures similar to India and Indonesia
Bt cotton in South Africa - not the success claimed
Indonesia-"Bt cotton planting has given us more harm than good"
Can GMOs End World Hunger? - Farmers, scientists and policy analyst from the developing world say no!
Brazil: Rio Grande do Sul - the biggest adopter of Monsanto technology - has been the hardest hit by the drought. The state is also home to Monsanto's fledgling royalty collection system. Brazil's agricultural department estimates that yields are down 72% in Rio Grande do Sul. Monsanto representative Ricardo Miranda concedes that yield losses are 80% in some areas. Soy exports from Rio Grande do Sul are expected to drop 95%.
The effects of such a severe drought are predictable. In some cases, soy crushers are halving their staff. Cargill is even closing a processing plant for a month for lack of inputs. Farmers have defaulted on one-third of the government loans so far this year.
Farmers are taking notice. The president of the Rio Grande do Sul seed association sites 25% higher crop losses in GE soy crops as compared with conventional ones. Governor of Mato Grosso (25% of national soy production) has publicly stated that he will not plant genetically modified soy next year.
"Farmers and farm groups are only now realizing the full financial impact of this drought," said Etienne Vernet, South American Research Director of the Polaris Institute. "Many Brazilian farmers who use Round-Up Ready soy will be thinking twice about it next year."
United States: The report went on to speculate that conventional soybeans may have performed better in 2003 than some genetically modified (GM) hybrids.
"There are some things that happened since 1995 that would lead you to look into that area," Eliason told New Farm during a telephone interview. "I don't want to get into that controversy but anytime you get into genetically engineering a plant, that takes energy."
..."Roundup inhibits the pathway that produces 35 percent of the metabolites. When they're blocking the normal interaction of that pathway, they're playing with things that affect the immune system of that plant. And that could make those plants less resistant to pest and disease problems, Hepperly said. Technologies such as Roundup Ready are typically developed in best-case-scenario environments that bolster performance but seldom reflect real-farm pressures, he said, pointing out that the problems now developing with Roundup Ready soy are mostly related to stress factors in an uncontrolled environment."
..."Unintended consequences of genetic engineering such as lower yields, woody stems, disease susceptibility, invasive super weeds, genetic pollution and a host of unknowns have led many scientists, consumer groups, and environmentalists to question the wisdom of unleashing such technologies before they have been proven safe. Those sounding the alarm assert that proper scientific precautions were sidestepped by biotech companies eager to get their products to market, arm in arm with industry-tied government regulators. Now, they say, the consequences of this rush to market are unfolding."
Argentina: "RR soya crops also yield 5% to 10% less compared with the non-GM varieties grown under similar soil conditions, confirming findings in the United States. Scientists at the University of Arkansas showed that root development, nodule formation and nitrogen fixation worsened in some varieties of RR soya and the effects are exacerbated under strong drought conditions or in relatively infertile fields. That is because the symbiotic bacterium responsible for fixing nitrogen in soya, Bradyrhizobium japonicum, is very sensitive to drought and to Roundup."
Indonesia: In the first year of planting, there were reported failures of Bt cotton - the crop succumbed to drought and hundreds of hectares were attacked by pests. The drought had led to a pest population explosion on Bt cotton, but not on other cotton varieties.
As a result, instead of reducing pesticide use, farmers had to use larger amounts of pesticides to control the pests. Furthermore, the Bt cotton - engineered to be resistant to a pest that is not a major problem in the area - was susceptible to other more serious pests.
Moreover, it did not produce the yields Monsanto had boasted about. The poor yields trapped farmers in a debt cycle; some 70% of the 4 438 farmers growing Bt cotton were unable to repay their credit after the first year of planting. http://www.gmwatch.org/p1temp.asp?pid=58&page=1
India: The three-year scientific study tracked the experiences of small farmers from planting to harvest in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. ''It found that three GM cotton varieties did not live up to the claims made by the agro-company Maycho-Monsanto and performed less well than traditional non-GM seeds,'' the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) which supported the anti-GM campaign said in a statement Tuesday.
Though costing nearly 400 per cent more to buy, the average yield from the GM cotton was about 150kg per acre, 30 percent less than from other non-GM varieties. The GM seeds also cost 12 percent more to cultivate in their need for manure and irrigation, and the reduction in pesticide use was negligible.
''Non-GM farmers earned 60 percent more than their GM counterparts over the three-year period,'' IIED said.
Then there was India where one variety of Monsanto's GM cotton performed so badly it has now been banned from the whole of South India, and the only other two varieties grown in the past 3 years have been banned from Andhra Pradesh.
South Africa: In addition to several comprehensive reports in India detailing how Bt cotton has been a total failure, a five-year study from South Africa also shows how GM cotton has destroyed small farmers.
The Biowatch South Africa study looks at the small farmers of the Makhathini Flats in Kwazulu-Natal, the same farmers that were widely promoted by Monsanto as a huge GM success story in Africa.
But a close and long-term look at the data shows how Monsanto's claims were premature at best, or deliberately misleading at worst.
The findings include:
-Out of 3,000 farmers who originally grew Bt cotton, only 700 continue to do so (an 80% dropout rate), which does not suggest that the crop has been a success.
-Farmers who grew Bt cotton are now in an average of $1,300 debt as a result.
-There has been no reduction in the use of pesticides. Now stink bugs have emerged as a major problem, as in other parts of the world where Bt cotton is grown.
-Farmers are made to sign contracts that they cannot read (either because they speak only Zulu, or are illiterate,) and do not understand their implications. Few know that they are supposed to plant refugia in order to slow down the rate of pests developing resistance to the crop.
One farmer says it all: "Four years ago we were told we would make lots of money but we work harder and make nothing."
firstname.lastname@example.org see http://www.non-gm-farmers.com/news_details.asp?ID=2187
Yet, it is now widely recognised that there is massive variability in the growing of Bt cotton; single surveys of farmers provide variable answers, each growing season provides very different results in the growing of Bt cotton. All in all, this initial economic study was a bit premature [5 http://www.grain.org/seedling/?id=330#_5 ] and the publicity generated from it, plainly misleading.
The following response was given by pro-GM activist Chris Preston on Monsanto sponsored Agbioview (here):
Australia: Network of Concerned Farmers Ask Why GM Crops Perform
Worse in Drought
- Christopher Preston ,
Senior Lecturer, Weed Management, University of Adelaide
In my recent search for material on yields of GM canola following the
comments of Julie Newman of the Network of Concerned Farmers that GM
canola yields were 20% less than those of conventional canola, I came
across a press release dating from 30th June 2005
(http://www.non-gm-farmers.com/news_details.asp?ID=2254). In this
press release, the Network of Concerned Farmers are asking why GM
crops perform worse in drought. This looks on the surface like a
reasonable question. The problem with the question, and perhaps the
intention, is that it makes the assumption that GM crops do perform
worse in drought. However, is there any evidence to support such an
Julie Newman thinks so and claims in the press release: "Farmers
worldwide have complained that GM crops perform worse than non-GM
crops during drought including GM cotton in India and Indonesia, GM
soy in the United States and Brazil and GM canola in CanadaŠ."
Supporting information is provided along with the press release
mostly pointing to other articles on the Network of Concerned Farmers
The main evidence provided by the Network of Concerned Farmers for
their claims, both in the press release and in the supporting
information is a claim that the 2004/2005 drought in Brazil had
greatly reduced GM soy yields. The quote presented comes from a
press release from the Polaris Institute of 29th June 2005. The
Polaris Institute describes its mission as "retooling citizen
movements for democratic social change in an age of corporate-driven
globalization". This press release quotes an unnamed "president of
the Rio Grande do Sul seed association" as saying crop losses were
25% higher for GM soy crops as compared to conventional ones.
The press release takes as its basis a news report, originally on
Tierramerica, written by Mario Osava in March 2005. In this report
we find that the unnamed president is in fact Narciso Barison,
president of APASSUL, a state association of seed producers. In
addition, the quote about yield losses was "because transgenic seeds
are smuggled into Brazil from Argentina and are not intended for the
local climate, so have proved less resistant to the water shortage.
The conventional varieties, developed by national Brazilian agencies,
certified and adapted to the region, had better results. The
differences in crop loss varied according to the conditions of each
field, reaching "a maximum of 25 percent" for non-GM soy, he said."
Therefore, rather than a 25% yield reduction on account of the
soybeans being GM we have a problem with less well adapted varieties
being smuggled into Brazil and the yield loss is mostly less than
25%. As all farmers would realise, less well-adapted varieties are
likely to have lower yields. The farmers growing these varieties
would have decided to grow GM soy for the other advantages they
The second example provided by the Network of Concerned Farmers comes
from an article in NewFarm
by the Rodale Institute following a presentation by Ron Eliason at
the 2004 Midwest Soybean Conference. The Rodale Institute promotes
organic agriculture. The author of the article, Dan Sullivan, has a
sidebar that repeats a number of the usual dubious claims of the
I have previously looked into this claim, as Charles Benbrook has
used this presentation as evidence for lower yields of GM soybeans,
and repeat here what I have previously written: A second line of
evidence cited by Benbrook is that yield improvement in soybeans has
been essentially nil since 1995 and that this is due to the high
adoption of Roundup Ready soybeans. In evidence, Benbrook cites a
presentation by Eliason and Jones at the Midwest Soybean Conference
in 2004 (go to http://wwwiasoybeans.com/whatnew/msc04/proceed.html
and click on the link). In this presentation, Eliason and Jones
contend that per acre soybean yields peaked in 1994 and have been
effectively flat ever since. In 1994 there was the highest ever per
acre soybean yield, whereas 2003 was the lowest yielding year for a
A second presentation at the same conference (J.E. Sprecht. Is
soybean yield improvement stagnating? Perception and perspectives.
http://wwwiasoybeans.com/whatnew/msc04/proceed.html and click on the
link) examined the same problem. Sprecht showed that plateaus in
soybean yields could be seen at various times since the 1970s and
suggested what has happened in the last decade is not new. Soybean
yields in Nebraska have mirrored soybean yields over the whole US,
with no apparent yield improvement since 1995. However, a number of
droughts have occurred in Nebraska over the past decade. Sprecht
showed that while yields in dryland soybeans had not increased since
1995, yield improvements, with no significant reduction in rate of
improvement, had occurred in irrigated soybeans. Benbrook has simply
ignored Sprecht. It is clear from Sprecht's analysis and other data
presented at the same conference that weather conditions rather than
Roundup Ready are responsible for the apparent lack of yield
improvement in the US.
In this case, there is no evidence that GM soybeans are performing
any worse in dry conditions than conventional crops. Indeed Sprecht
was able to show similar effects for maize, much of which was not GM
until more recently.
The third example is Argentina where the claim is made "RR soya crops
also yield 5% to 10% less compared with the non-GM varieties grown
under similar soil conditions, confirming findings in the United
States." This quote comes from an article written by Dr. Lilian
Joensen and Mae-Wan Ho and published by the Institute of Science in
Society. The article is called Argentina's GM Woes
(http://www.i-sis.org.uk/AGMW.php). As a source, Joensen and Ho used
an article written in 2001 by Walter Pengue for Seedling, the
newsletter of GRAIN (www.grain.org/publications/seed-01-9-3-en.cfm).
In this article, Pengue writes: "Evidence shows that RR soybean crops
produce 5% to 10% less yield per acre as against other identical
varieties grown under similar soil conditionsŠ." He cites "Troubled
Times Amid Commercial Success for Roundup Ready Soybeans: Glyphosate
Efficacy is Slipping and Unstable Transgene Expression Erodes Plant
Defenses and Yields" by Charles Benbrook as the source of this
information. Benbrook was citing his analysis of US soybean trials.
Therefore, not only does the quoted 5 to 10% yield loss have nothing
to do with drought, it also has nothing to do with Argentina.
Joensen and Ho added the comment "confirming findings in the United
The fourth example given is Indonesia. In this case, the quote is
"In the first year of planting, there were reported failures of Bt
cotton - the crop succumbed to drought and hundreds of hectares were
attacked by pests. The drought had led to a pest population explosion
on Bt cotton, but not on other cotton varieties". This quote is
tracked backed to an Institute of Science in Society Press release of
May 2004 written by Lim Li Ching
(http://www.i-sis.org.uk/BrokenPromises.php). Ching used a Friends
of the Earth publication "Genetically-Modified Crops: A Decade of
Disaster" and an article from The Jakarta Post "Pest attack
genetically-modified cotton" 29 June, 2001. The quote used by the
Friends of the Earth is not acknowledged in their publication, but
comes from a summary produced by Sarah Hindmarsh of the Pesticide
Action Network of Asia Pacific as a source of most of the quotes
(there are a number of sites with this summary including
www.poptel.org.uk/panap/ge/indoblurb.htm.). In the summary,
Hindmarsh states: "The Bt cotton has succumbed to drought and pest
infestations" and cites three Jakarta Post news articles as the
source of this information. These are: Pests attack genetically
modified cotton, The Jakarta Post, June 29, 2001; Pros and cons of
transgenic cotton continue in S. Sulawesi, The Jakarta Post Features,
July 17, 2001; Transgenic cotton irks farmers, The Jakarta Post:
National News, September 15, 2001. A search of these three articles
failed to find any mention of drought. It seems that Hindmarsh has
added the comment about drought to the story. The story is further
embellished as it goes along.
The next example is India. Here the Network of Concerned Farmers
relies on a Press Release from the International Institute for
Environment and Development (IIED). This Press Release touted the
publication of a document "BT cotton in Andhra Pradesh: A three year
assessment" published by the Deccan Development Society, Andhra
Pradesh Coalition in Defense of Diversity and the Permaculture
Association of India, co-written by the Project Coordinator of the
Permaculture Association of India. These three organizations are
implacably opposed to GM crops and are leading the opposition to Bt
cotton in southern India. Within this document is a table of yields
that indicate Bt cotton performed worse in Andhra Pradesh in its
first year of production, the drought year of 2002/2003, than
conventional hybrids. In 2003/2004 and 2004/2005 yields of Bt cotton
were higher than yields of conventional hybrids. However, drought
conditions were also evident in 2004/2005. Yields of conventional
cotton hybrids were actually worse in 2004/2005 than in 2002/2003.
Yet in this drought year, Bt cotton outperformed non-Bt cotton by 5%.
In an article "Bt Cotton Controversy: Some Paradoxes Explained",
written by Gopal Naik, Matin Qaim, Arjunan Subramanian and David
Zilberman and published in the Economic and Political Weekly April 9
2005, the authors report the results of a survey of 341 cotton
farmers in four states of India. In their report, yields of Bt and
conventional cotton were analyzed across several states of India. In
three out of 4 states in 2002, yields of Bt cotton were significantly
higher than non-Bt cotton. In Andhra Pradesh, Bt cotton yields were
lower than conventional by 3%, but this difference was not
statistically significant. In Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu,
yields were significantly higher by 32%, 73%, and 43% respectively.
Andhra Pradesh had the second highest conventional cotton yield of
the three states indicating that drought was probably not of
significantly greater intensity in Andhra Pradesh than elsewhere. As
Naik et al. state: "If the germplasm is more susceptible to drought
than a locally adapted cultivar, the Bt hybrid will underperform in a
dry spell, especially when bollworm pressure is low."
Next we come to South Africa, where the Network of Concerned Farmers
rely on a report from Biowatch, South Africa. Biowatch is the lead
anti-GM organization in South Africa. This article "Bt cotton in
South Africa: the case of the Makhathini farmers" by Elfrieda
Pschorn-Strauss was published in Seedling, the Newsletter of GRAIN,
in 2005. This article, while highly critical of Bt cotton, does not
once contain a claim that Bt cotton does less well under drought
conditions than conventional cotton. Instead it indicates that
drought and low cotton prices have inhibited small farmers from being
as successful as larger farmers with Bt cotton. The problem being the
high cost of seed is harder to justify in drought seasons.
Lastly, we come to GM canola in Canada. The Network of Concerned
Farmers provides no additional evidence to support their claims about
reduced yields in droughts of GM canola in Canada.
I also conducted a brief search of the scientific literature and was
unable to find any articles that reported lower yields of GM crops
under drought conditions. This does not mean that there may not be
some information in articles are not out there, simply that the
information is not prominent.
In conclusion, the examples given by the Network of Concerned Farmers
do not stack up. They can all be sourced to groups that are
implacably opposed to GM crops. Has Julie Newman and the Network of
Concerned Farmers ever wondered why only anti-GM groups are able to
find evidence for GM crops performing worse under drought? Of the
seven examples given, only two indicate the possibility that drought
might preferentially lower yields of GM crops. In both cases, it was
the growing of less well-adapted cultivars that was the root of the
problem. At this stage, there is simply no evidence to support a
conclusion that GM causes crops to perform worse in drought.
One of the other points of note from this survey was that on two
occasions anti-GM activists simply added material to the story to
make up for the lack of evidence and on a third occasion change the
wording significantly to make a quote look more damaging. This should
be adequate warning to Julie Newman, and others, that they should
look for the original sources of the stories instead of simply
believing and parroting what is written by these groups.
The above article fails to mention why Australian cotton growers use an additional watering for irrigated GM cotton and relies on discrediting any adverse data by claiming anyone that is willing to stand up against GM is anti-GM. Trials during drought will assist Australian farmers to guage drought susceptibility, however Bayer Cropscience and Monsanto withdrew from the proposed NSW trials in 2004 citing drought as a reason. If there was no drought suceptibility, they would be confident that their varieties would outperform non-GM varieties.
The reason cited for Monsanto's Roundup Ready's yield penalties in "the Scientist" implied that the chemical remains active and sits in the meristems affecting the emerging buds and therefore yields. This problem would be lessened if rain is experienced not long after application as it would wash away the residual chemical.
Yields have not increased since GM introduction to Canada. See statistical graphs showing the comparison between Canadian and Australian canola acreage sown and yields (*document here)