Biotech crops needed to help insure food/fiber supply

Supplies of major U.S. crops are “really running on a thin edge,” says Jay Vroom, and the public needs to understand that biotech crops represent a tool for helping to insure adequate food and fiber.

Data from the International Econometrics Association “only reinforce how fragile total ending stocks of major U.S. crops have been in recent years,” he said at the 50th anniversary conference of the Southern Crop Production Association at Savannah, Ga.

Vroom, who is president of CropLife America, a Washington-based trade association representing the manufacturers of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, says “in the last 18 months or so, we've seen indications that carryover for major feed grains could've been down near the 30-day range at the end of the crop year.

“That's a very thin margin — a lot different from 10 years or 20 years ago when we had huge carryovers. The supply-demand balance for basic food and fiber is a lot closer to the edge than most people realize. We have to get the message out about the importance of technology to insure that U.S. and world agriculture can continue to deliver the kind of output that we've come to expect and take for granted as consumers.”

Forecasts indicate that the ag chemical and ag biotechnology markets will continue to grow over the next five years, Vroom says, with “minimal but steady growth” in ag chemicals.

Worldwide sales of agricultural chemicals is forecast to reach $27.3 billion by 2008, he says. “More significantly, income from ag biotechnology is forecast around $5.7 billion by 2008. Since most of our industry sees these two markets as one from an income stream standpoint, our industry does have a bright future.

“I think these are relatively conservative forecasts and that we have a lot of opportunities for growth as recovering economies in Asia and elsewhere in the world result in improved diets that could drive demand even higher.”

Genetically modified crops have carved a substantial niche in the overall seed market, Vroom says.

“The reduction in sales of conventional seeds has been more than offset by sales of genetically enhanced seed. This is a significant trendline and one that — even with the problems in the European Union and the ‘Frankenfoods’ monster they've created — will continue.

“We'll see growing opportunities for genetically modified seed and the expansion of this technology around the world will be significant.”

It's important, Vroom says, “that we build and maintain consensus within our industry, and with both traditional and new partners. We'll either work together, or we'll be hung separately by our opponents.

“We've got to have clear, measurable policy priorities, because at the end of the day our freedom to do business is on the line.

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