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U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) crops widely since their commercial introduction in 1996, notwithstanding uncertainty about consumer acceptance and economic and environmental impacts. In terms of share of planted acres, soybeans and cotton have been the most widely adopted GE crops in the U.S., followed by corn.

The tables in this product provide data obtained by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in the June Agricultural Survey for 2000 through 2014.

Randomly selected farmers across the United States were asked if they planted corn, soybeans, or upland cotton seed that, through biotechnology, is resistant to herbicides, insects, or both. Conventionally bred herbicide-tolerant varieties were excluded. "Stacked" gene varieties are those containing GE traits for both herbicide tolerance (HT) and insect resistance (Bt).

According to NASS, the States published in these tables represent 81-86 percent of all corn planted acres, 87-90 percent of all soybean planted acres, and 81-93 percent of all upland cotton planted acres (depending on the year). 

The acreage estimates are subject to sampling variability because all operations planting GE varieties are not included in the sample. The variability for the 48 corn States, calculated by NASS using the relative standard error at the U.S. level, is 0.3-1.8 percent for all GE varieties (depending on the year), 1.6-4.9 percent for insect-resistant (Bt)-only varieties, 1.6-3.8 percent for herbicide-tolerant-only varieties, and 0.6-10.8 percent for stacked gene varieties. Variability for the 31 soybean States is 0.3-0.8 percent for herbicide-tolerant varieties, depending on the year. Variability for the 17 upland cotton States is 0.6-2.2 percent for all GE varieties, 4.6-14.4 percent for insect-resistant (Bt)-only varieties, 2.6-8.2 percent for herbicide-tolerant-only varieties, and 1.9-4.2 percent for stacked gene varieties.

Data Sources

Three USDA surveys provide agricultural production data for the adoption of genetically engineered (GE) corn, cotton, and soybean varieties:

  • Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) (for 1996-98)
  • Objective Yield Survey (for 1999)
  • June Agricultural Survey (for 2000 and beyond)

1996-98 Data—The NASS/ERS Agricultural Resource Management Surveys (ARMS)

The ARMS surveys developed by the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of USDA are conducted annually starting from 1996. These surveys link data on the resources used in agricultural production to data on use of technologies (including the use of genetically engineered crops), other management techniques, chemical use, yields, and farm financial/economic conditions for selected field crops. Each survey includes three phases: screening, obtaining production practices and cost data, and obtaining financial information. The number of States covered by the surveys varies by crop and year, but each survey includes States that account for between 79 and 96 percent of U.S. acreage in the specified crop.

1999 Data—The NASS Objective Yield Survey

The 1999 adoption data are based on responses from the seed variety questions on the 1999 Objective Yield and Farm Operator Survey conducted between September and October to gather information on expected yields. The information was published in October 1999 in the NASS report Crop Production. The Objective Yield Surveys (OYS) for corn, soybeans, and cotton were conducted in the major producing States that account for between 61 and 71 percent of the U.S. production. NASS conducts objective yield surveys in major corn, soybean, and upland cotton producing States each year. Randomly selected plots in corn (for grain), soybean, and upland cotton fields are visited monthly from August through harvest to obtain specific counts and measurements. The farm operator survey was conducted primarily by telephone with some use of mail and personal interviewers. Herbicide-tolerant varieties include those developed using both biotechnology and conventional breeding techniques. Insect resistant varieties include those containing Bt. These data are intended to show trends in production practices but are not official estimates of USDA's Agricultural Statistics Board.

2000-14 Data—The NASS June Agricultural Survey

The 2000-14 adoption data were collected as part of the June Agricultural Survey that NASS conducts during the first 2 weeks of June and publishes at the end of June in the NASS report Acreage. Enumerators conducting the area survey contact all farmers having operations within the sampled segments of land and account for their operations. Farmers in the list survey sample are contacted by mail, telephone, or personal interview to obtain information on their operations. Responses from the list sample, plus data from operations that were not on the list to be sampled, are combined to provide another estimate of planted and harvested acres. Regarding GE crops, randomly selected farmers across the United States were asked during the first 2 weeks of June if they planted seed that, through biotechnology, was resistant to herbicides, insects, or both. Unlike previous surveys, herbicide-tolerant varieties in this survey include only those developed using biotechnology. Conventionally bred herbicide-tolerant varieties were excluded from the survey. Insect-resistant varieties include only those containing Bt. Stacked gene varieties include those containing genetically engineered traits for both herbicide and insect resistance.

Comparability Across Surveys

Data from the three different USDA surveys are not directly comparable because none of the surveys were specifically designed to collect data on GE varieties. Rather, questions on adoption of GE crops were added to different USDA survey instruments whose main objective was not measuring the extent of adoption of these crops. As a consequence, survey coverage among the three types of surveys often differs. There are also some differences in the base acreage used to calculate the percentage of adoption (unlike the other surveys, which report adoption rates relative to planted acres, the Objective Yield Survey reported the adoption rates relative to harvested acres), and the questions related to GE crop adoption are not identical in different surveys. See the publication Adoption of Bioengineered Crops for more detail about the different surveys. In particular, adoption data for 1996-99 include herbicide-tolerant corn and soybeans obtained using traditional breeding methods (non-GE). The more recent data (2000-14), on the other hand, excluded these varieties.

Last updated: Monday, July 14, 2014

For more information contact: Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo