Background
In 2016, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) conducted its annual Perception Benchmark Study[1] to measure consumer opinions about agriculture, including attitudes toward environmental sustainability, GMOs and technology. Approximately half of Consumer Food Connectors[2] surveyed attributed increased yields and increased efficiency with the use of advanced technology on farms and ranches. Yet, while technology on the farm is perceived positively, only 11 percent of this group found GMOs favorable.

The findings of the USFRA Perception Study indicate a lack of understanding among consumers about the beneficial link between GMO technology and sustainability. According to a 2015 study[3] from Purdue University’s Dept. of Agricultural Economics, “GMO seeds (mainly cotton, corn, soybeans and rapeseed) significantly improve yields compared with non-GMO seeds.”

The Study’s authors estimated the use of GMO seeds has resulted in savings of at least 11 million ha of cropland, which converts to “150 million metric tons of GHG emissions averted due to yield contributions of GMO crops.” The final conclusion by the Study’s authors was that a loss of GMO technology would result in “significant land use change and GHG emissions, important commodity price increases, food price increases, and economic welfare losses.”

Farmer Attitudes and GMOs
In addition to securing an understanding of consumer attitudes towards GMOs, in 2016, USFRA and National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) also surveyed farmers[4] on the same topic.

Farmers were asked to weigh in on a range of topics regarding the impact of GM technology on the environment, pesticide use, and yields, among others. Overall findings conclude that farmers believe biotechnology helps raise crops more efficiently, and that the environment and sustainability practices will suffer if GMO technology utilization is reduced in crop production in the future.  Also, a majority of farmers foresee increased environmental impacts—including an increase in water usage and application of pesticides—if GMO seeds were not to be available to them as a choice in crop production.

Key topics and findings include:

  • Environmental Impact: Nearly all farmers indicated soil health (95%) and precise use of pesticides (94%) as key factors in protecting the environment.  
    • Of those that consider environmental impacts to be the greatest concern should GMO seeds were not to be available to them as a choice in crop production, three-in-four farmers (78%) foresee increased environmental impacts, including but not limited to the use of more water and the application of more pesticides. Moreover, when asked about farmers’ ability to lessen their environmental footprint, GMO seeds ranked top of the list (98%).
       
  • Pesticide Use/Crop Inputs: When asked about the reason for using biotechnology when raising crops, the majority of farmers indicated GMO seeds allow them to minimize pesticide/herbicide usage (87%).
     
  • Sustainability: Three quarters (78%) of farmers also expressed being able to engage in advanced farming practices, such as conservation tillage.
    • Another two-thirds (64%) of farmers also believe GMO seeds allow for efficient management of resources, specifically, fuel, time and less wear-and-tear on their equipment.
       
  • GMO Absence Claims: The majority (94%) of farmers agree that marketing absence claims can be misleading to consumers when food companies promote GMO deselection as being healthier and better for the environment.
     
  • Yields: Many farmers tend to believe GMO seeds produce a higher yield (69%). This finding may also have an impact on why many farmers believe GMO seeds work best for their particular farm and region in enhancing productivity (65%).

[1] Nationwide online panel survey commissioned by USFRA. Survey was fielded August 29-September 29, 2016 and has a margin of error of +/-3% for General Consumers and +/-4% for Consumer Food Connectors at a 95% confidence level. Survey was fielded by Research Now among 525 General Consumers and 475 Consumer Food Connectors.  

[2] Consumer Food Connectors are defined as men and women between the ages of 21-65 who do not personally work or have immediate family who work on farm. They are very involved in or make all household decisions and purchases related to food. They do not have a strong pre-bias against conventional (non-organic) farming.

[3] Taheripour, Furzad; Mahaffey, Harry, and Tyner, Wallace E. Evaluation of Economic, Land Use, and Land Use Emission Impacts of Substituting Non-GMO Crops for GMO in the U.S., 2015, Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University. 

[4] Online survey conducted October 11-26, 2016, among a sample of 282 farmers, 18 years of age and older, living in the U.S. The margin of error for this study is +/-5.84 % at a 95% confidence level. Of the 282 farmers polled, 92% have been using GMO seeds for 10 or more years, and grow a variety of crops, including corn, soybeans, alfalfa and cotton.