Checkbiotech: Biotechnology helping fuel nation's economic comeback.
Biotech saves Romania
www.czu.cz ; www.raupp.info
Lucian Buzdugan knows plant biotechnology remains controversial in some
parts of the world and Europe, July 2004.
But the farm manager has seen income and yields double by planting
genetically enhanced soybeans, and he hopes the ongoing debate never affects
his ability to grow biotech soybeans in Romania.
"If one day our government says no more GMOs (genetically modified
organisms), for me it's a disaster," said Buzdugan, the general manager of
several soybean farms in southeastern Romania.
Herbicide tolerant soybeans, which have been commercially grown in Romania
since 1999, have led to a doubling of both income and yields on the 23 farms
Buzdugan manages near the Black Sea ? about 175 miles east of Bucharest.
Yields were just 1,300 to 1,500 pounds per acre with conventional soybeans
and are now averaging 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per acre with biotech varieties,
he said. The yield increases in Romania have been much higher than in other
parts of the world ? largely because of the economic deterioration in
Romania as it transitioned to a market economy ? which left some
agricultural fields neglected and overrun with weeds.
"Farm profitability has been very low (and) production of most crops has
fallen," wrote researcher Graham Brookes in an August 2003 report, The Farm
Level Impact of Using Roundup Ready Soybeans in Romania.
"Significant areas of land have been abandoned and on much of the cultivated
land, the main form of weed control practiced has been hand weeding and
hoeing. As a result the weed bank has expanded rapidly so that by the late
1990s, weeds have become the most important problem area for arable crop
farmers, including soybean producers."
Herbicide tolerant soybeans have given farmers a better way to control weeds
that is both cost-effective and easier to manage, explained Buzdugan. In
addition, some farmers have reported price premiums of up to 10 percent for
biotech soybeans because there are fewer weed impurities than with
The average price gain was 2 percent.
"I can tell you that soybean farmers in Romania are very interested in
biotech seeds," said Buzdugan, who is 57 and who has been farming since
Although the biotech soybean seeds are 10 to 15 percent more expensive than
conventional varieties, the income gains make the extra cost more than
worthwhile, he said. In 2003, between half to 60 percent of the soybean
acreage in Romania was planted with biotech varieties, 4 which would have
been higher if more seeds were available. Nonetheless, Romania ranked ninth
in the world for area planted with biotech crops, just behind India and
ahead of Uruguay.
The biotech seeds are helping lead Romania's comeback in soybean production
that steadily declined over the past decade during the country's ongoing
transition to a market economy. In the early 1990s, about 469,000 acres of
soybeans were planted each year in Romania. 6 In 2003, less than half that
area ? 185,000 acres ? was planted with soybeans. Even so, Romania was the
fourth leading soybean producer in Europe, following Italy,
Serbia/Montenegro and France. Most of the crop is used for animal feed and
is sold to domestic markets and exported.
The Brookes study provides insights into why so many Romanian farmers have
adopted the new technology:
Yields, on average, were 31 percent higher than for conventional soybeans,
primarily due to better weed control.
Income gains were 184 percent higher for small farmers (under 500 hectares,
or 1,235 acres) and 127 percent higher for large farmers (over 500
hectares). That translates into an extra 200.5 euros (about US$242) per
hectare for small farmers and 191.5 euros (about US$231) for large farmers.
Weeds on follow-up crops such as corn were easier to control, which led to a
reduction in herbicide use.
The study also found that, on a national level, biotech soybeans in 2003:
Led to a national production increase of between 29,000 and 33,500 metric
tons (a 16 to 19 percent increase).
Boosted earnings between 54.39 million and 62.4 million euros (US$65.64
million to US$75.3 million).
That's important for a country that relies heavily on its agricultural
sector. About 4.9 million of Romania's 22.4 million people work in
agriculture, fishery and forestry, accounting for about 43 percent of
civilian employment and 11.4 percent of its gross domestic product.
Like other countries, the Romanian government is working to improve the
incomes of its rural residents. It has privatized some of its large,
state-owned farms and has adopted policies that allow for individual
families to operate farms that are up to 50 hectares12 ? 100 times larger
than was permitted under the old communist regime.
The approval of biotech soybeans and insect resistant potatoes (although the
potatoes are not currently being grown) in 1999 was one more step taken by
the government to improve agricultural production.
Although Bt corn ? enhanced with a naturally occurring soil bacterium
Bacillus thuringiensis to ward off insect pests ? has not yet been approved
for commercial planting, Buzdugan hopes it's available soon.
As a grower of Bt seed corn that is sold in other countries, Buzdugan has
firsthand knowledge of the yield and income gains that are possible.
Twenty-seven years ago, working with the International Farmer Association
for Education, Buzdugan traveled to Iowa and observed the crop rotation of
corn and soybeans practiced on two farms. He figures the same rotation using
biotech crops would be even better.
"I'm grateful that I now have the training to grow biotech soybeans," said
Buzdugan. "They're helping me a better farmer and a better steward of the
land, and they can help Romania become an even better agricultural
producer ? just like Iowa.
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