It's only January, months before spring planting, but it is high season for commodity analysts.
According to Memphis-based Sparks Commodities U.S. farmers will plant more acres in corn this year and fewer in beans.
Applying normal crop trends to the numbers the Sparks analysts project a 10.48 billion bushel corn crop and a soy harvest of 2.84 billion bushels.
There is little doubt American farmers can produce. Nor is there much doubt that farmers in the EU, South America, or Ukraine are also ramping up production. Because of global competition, end-users can be more discriminating about what they buy. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the debate over crops grown from genetically engineered seed. But even as key importing nations demand G-M-O free commodities, farmers continue to adopt and deploy the technology.
According to a recently released study, the planting of biotech crops worldwide rose by 12% last year. In 2002, 16 countries put genetically modified varieties on 145-million acres. Of that total, two-thirds were planted on U.S. soil.
Since their introduction in the mid 90s, GM crops have met with mixed reviews. A large number of conventional grain farmers consider them a blessing while some consumer groups, environmental factions and even a few governments hold the exact opposite opinion.
One of those governments is the European Union which has had a ban on the importation of new strains of GM grains for almost five years. The U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick (ZEL'-ihk), has called the ban a complete violation of World Trade Organization rules. Republican farm state lawmakers want to go one step further and bring the EU up on charges with the W-T-O.
The controversy over the use of GM crops is also growing closer to home. One of the benefits of engineered crops like Roundup Ready soybeans was the promise of better weed control with more benign chemicals. However, new research has concluded some weeds are starting to exhibit signs of resistance to the killing action of glyphosate herbicides like Roundup.
Two major purveyors of Roundup Ready technology, Monsanto and Syngenta, have created herbicide protocols to slow a trend that critics say is inevitable. Monsanto is recommending applications of 2,4-D on resistant weeds to eliminate them from next year's crop. Meanwhile, Syngenta suggested that those using a corn/bean rotation should limit the number of herbicide passes and switch between GM and non-GM varieties.