ASA Study Confirms Environmental Benefits of Biotech Soybeans

The American Soybean Association (ASA) today released the findings of its first-ever Conservation Tillage Study, which shows how the availability of soybean seeds enhanced through biotechnology has allowed and encouraged farmers to implement reduced tillage practices that protect farmland from wind and rain erosion. The study shows that 73 percent of the growers are now leaving more crop residue on the soil surface than they did in 1996, when biotech-derived soybeans became available for commercial planting. More than half the study group credited the introduction of biotechnology-derived Roundup Ready® Soybeans as the factor that had the greatest impact on their adoption of reduced tillage practices in soybeans.

“This ASA study quantifies what most soybean farmers already know,” said ASA President Bart Ruth, a producer from Rising City, Neb. “Biotechnology gave farmers another tool to control weeds that reduce yields and lower the quality of our crops, while at the same time, helping us improve our stewardship of the environment.”

Using traditional methods, farmland many times was plowed in the fall and must be disked before planting, and then cultivated once or twice during the growing season to control weeds. While this method helped control weeds, it also left the ground exposed to wind and rain erosion, which carries soil and agricultural chemicals into the air and into nearby streams and rivers.

No-till farming means that the ground is not plowed at all, while reduced tillage means that the ground is disturbed less than it would be with traditional tillage systems. Under a no-till farming system, soybean seeds for the next crop are planted right through the organic material that is left over from the previous crop, which might have been corn, cotton, wheat or some other crop.

“ASA estimates that no-till and reduced-till farming is now the preferred planting method on more than 80 percent of all the soybean acres in this country,” Ruth said. “The majority of growers in ASA’s study said that the Roundup Ready system made possible through biotechnology was the biggest reason that they have adopted or increased their use of conservation tillage practices.”

Almost half (48 percent) of the growers in ASA’s study said that they have increased their no-till soybean acres during the last six growing seasons (1996-2001). During this period, no-till soybean acres have more than doubled to 49 percent of total soybean acres, and reduced till acres have increased by one-fourth, to account for another 33 percent of soybean acres.

In the ASA study, 53 percent of the growers said they are making fewer tillage passes in soybeans. Reduced tillage practices in soybeans saved 247 million tons of irreplaceable topsoil in 2000, and reduced the number of times a farmer had to run equipment over the field, saving 234 million gallons of fuel.

“This technology reduces my production costs because I don’t have to drive my equipment over each field as many times,” Ruth said. “That decreases my labor cost and the wear-and-tear on my equipment. It also lowers my fuel cost and improves the air quality. And for the first time in modern history, we have the technology to implement sustainable agricultural practices that are saving the soil for future generations.”

For its Conservation Tillage Study, ASA hired Doane Marketing Research, Inc., a local firm that is nationally recognized for their expertise in conducting agricultural studies involving farmers. Doane studied the farming practices of 452 farmers in 19 Midwestern and Southern states with quotas established based on each state’s proportion of soybean acres. Participants with 200 or more soybean acres were randomly selected from lists maintained by Doane, plus 201 participants were selected at random from an ASA members list.

While the study shows that ASA members were earlier adopters of conservation tillage practices, by 2001, the tillage practices of non-members were similar to that of ASA members. The ASA represents more than 26,000 soybean producers with affiliate offices in 26 states and 13 international marketing offices around the globe.

“ASA wanted to look at soybean tillage practices in 1996 and compare them to present day tillage practices,” Ruth said. “As producers, we knew that biotechnology was improving the way we farm. This study gives us an objective way to measure these changes, identify the reasons for it, and determine what obstacles may be keeping some farmers from implementing more conservation tillage on their farms.”