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Biotech Crops Still Popular

June 30, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Farmers planted less genetically engineered corn this year, but biotech varieties of cotton and soybeans are as popular as ever despite the controversy over gene-altered crops, the government reported Friday.

Farmers are planting 19.9 million acres of gene-altered corn this year, down from about 25 million acres last year, according to a survey of farmers by the Agriculture Department.

Some farmers are worried about being able to sell gene-altered corn in overseas markets, while other growers planted less biotech seed because they aren’t worried about insect infestations, analysts say. The most popular, and most controversial, type of biotech corn is genetically modified to kill an insect pest.

``Last year these guys planted all these things thinking they would have a good or premium market, and they experienced the opposite,″ said Bill Biedermann, director of research for Allendale Inc.

Plantings of biotech cotton, a crop that’s grown for both fiber and vegetable oil, are up sharply this year, according to the USDA survey.

An estimated 61 percent of this year’s crop, or about 9.5 million acres, is genetically engineered, compared to 8.2 million acres last year, or 55 percent of the 1999 crop.

About 40.2 million acres of genetically engineered soybeans have been planted this year, or 54 percent of the total crop, according to the farmer survey.

The department does not have a comparable estimate for last year. However, the Biotechnology Industry Organization has estimated, based on seed sales, that 35 million acres of genetically engineered soybeans were grown in 1999.

The gene-altered soybeans are designed to be used with a popular and powerful herbicide known as Roundup. Farmers say they like the crop because it dramatically reduces their field work. Weeds are a major problem in growing soybeans.

``Everybody is so excited about them, especially this year,″ because heavy rains have caused more weeds to grow, said Biedermann. He said farmers had no problems selling biotech soybeans last year.

Farmers would have planted even more of the crop this year had seed companies been able to keep up with demand, said Michael Phillips, executive director of food and agriculture for the industry group.

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