- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Farmers in Maryland and Virginia earned at least an additional $17.3 million last year by growing the bioengineered crops used to stock the shelves of grocery stores in the Washington area and elsewhere, according to a group that studies food policy.

The earnings resulted from greater crop production and reduced expenses, according to the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, a Washington-based nonprofit research organization.

Maryland farmers, for example, reduced expenses by using 282,000 fewer pounds of insecticides and herbicides. Their bioengineered crops resist insects and weeds without adding chemicals to them, the group said.

In Virginia, herbicide use rose by 158,000 pounds as farmers tried to eradicate weeds common to their state. Without bioengineering, the crops would die along with the weeds.

However, production increased because new strains of bioengineered soybeans and cotton can survive the weedkillers and still produce a cash crop.

Maryland also has weeds, but they are less of a threat to the state's corn and soybeans.

"They have different weed problems," said Leonard Gianessi, a senior researcher for the food research center.

The center's figures on crop yields, revenue and herbicide use were taken from surveys of state agricultural extension services.

Maryland's crop commodities increased by 38.9 million pounds in 2001, mostly because of a pest-resistant bioengineered corn called BT corn, the center reported. Bioengineering increased Virginia's crop yield by 3.5 million pounds, mostly for corn and cotton.

BT corn exudes a toxin that can kill the corn borer, a pest that has devastated crops in Maryland and Pennsylvania, but is less of a problem in Virginia.

The increased production found in the Washington area reflects the same trend nationwide, where U.S. farmers earned an additional $1.5 billion from bioengineered crops, the center reported during a biotechnology conference in Toronto last week.

State Agriculture Department officials in Maryland and Virginia said they did not keep similar records to verify the food research center's figures.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service has recorded a steady upswing in farmers using bioengineered crops.

In 2000, 25 percent of all corn crops planted nationwide were bioengineered. A year later, 26 percent were bioengineered.

For soybeans, 54 percent were bioengineered in 2000; 68 percent were one year later.

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