Biggest value of GMO corn is cutting risk, not boosting yields, CALS research shows

By analyzing two decades worth of corn yield data from Wisconsin, a team of CALS researchers has quantified the impact that various popular transgenes have on grain yield and production risk compared to conventional corn. Their analysis, published online in a Nature Biotechnology correspondence article on Feb. 7, confirms the general understanding that the major benefit of genetically modified (GM) corn doesn’t come from increasing yields in average or good years, but from reducing losses during bad ones.

“For the first time we have an estimate of what genetically modified hybrids mean as far as value for the farmer,” says UW-Madison and UW-Extension corn agronomist Joe Lauer, who led the study.

Lauer has been gathering corn yield and other data for the past 20 years as part of the Wisconsin Corn Hybrid Performance Trials, a project he directs. Each year, his team tests about 500 different hybrid corn varieties at more than a dozen sites around the state with the goal of providing unbiased performance comparisons of hybrid seed corn for the state’s farmers. When GM hybrids became available in 1996, Lauer started including them in the trials.

“It’s a long-term data set that documents one of the most dramatic revolutions in agriculture – the introduction of transgenic crops,” says Lauer, who collaborated with UW-Madison agricultural economists Guanming Shi and Jean-Paul Chavas to conduct the statistical analysis, which considered grain yield and production risk separately. Read the full story.


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