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Study: Biotech Crops Lift Minn. Economy

December 12, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Minnesota biotech crops were valued at $2.15 billion last year, but also led to benefits beyond farms in the form of high-paying jobs, income and investment in the agricultural food chain, according to a new study.

The study by the University of Minnesota shows that the value of such crops in Minnesota was behind Iowa and Illinois last year.

Plant biotechnology, which involves transferring and transforming genetic material, has provoked opposition from some consumers who see it as ``Frankenstein food.″ Nonetheless, a rapidly increasing number of farmers have been won over by the managerial and cost benefits of biotech crops, statistics show.

The plant biotechnologies are creating new agricultural and food science jobs that pay 1.5 to 2 times the average typical wage for U.S. workers, said the study’s author, C. Ford Runge, professor of economics at the University of Minnesota.

Such jobs were unknown a decade ago. New biotech companies are cropping up as part of a ``remarkable genomics-based transformation of agriculture,″ said Runge, who is director of the University’s Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy and a McKnight professor of applied economics and law.

The $70,000 study, released in Washington, D.C., was paid for by the Council for Biotechnology Information, an organization that bills itself as promoting scientific information about the advantages of biotechnology in agriculture and food.

Companies such as DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta Seed are among members that support the organization.

Runge pointed to a 2003 survey by Minnesota’s employment department that found 170 firms involved in biotech in Minnesota alone. Of those, two in five were in the agricultural and industrial sectors.

Nationwide, Runge said, commercial biotech crops of corn, soybeans, cotton and canola represented a total value of $20.9 billion in 2002. That’s half of the total $40 billion value of the four crops, Runge said.

``On Minnesota farms, biotech varieties are accounting for a more and more substantial share of crops planted, and this translates into crop value, at least in the case of corn and soybeans and rapeseed, of at least $2.15 billion in 2002,″ Runge said.

It’s unclear how much of that money is actually new wealth, above what farmers would have planted with conventional varieties. But what is clear, Runge said, is that when farmers used seeds with biotech traits, average profits rose by $5 to $60 per acre of corn, and by about $15 per acre for soybeans.

The steadily increasing adoption of biotechnology in the fields comes as farmers sit at their kitchen tables this winter, deciding what kind of seeds to plant in the spring.

Pat Duncanson and his spouse, Kristin Weeks-Duncanson of Blue Earth County, are among those farmers.

Using satellite transmissions and data from seed companies, the University of Minnesota and other sources, the Mapleton farmers are selecting what biotech traits they want in their crops to fight insects, weeds and disease in their corn and soybeans.

``We weigh the pros and cons to using new products,″ Pat Duncanson said, ``although some of the biotech products are such a part of the landscape now that we hardly call them new anymore.″

Biotech crops were first introduced commercially in 1996.

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