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Published May 13, 2013, 10:38 AM

Wheat gave up ‘king’ status

Biotechnology is bolstering corn’s importance on the Northern Plains. There are a number of other factors why acreage is overtaking wheat

By: Brian Smith, Agweek

In the recent article “King wheat” (Agweek, April 1) the author laid out a number of reasons why corn acres are continuing to overtake wheat in North Dakota and South Dakota, but didn’t include the No. 1 factor. Investments in and the adoption of biotechnology have been a game-changer for corn growers across the country, especially in the Northern Plains where growing conditions are volatile.

Looking back to the author’s comparisons from 15 years ago when wheat acreage was leading, this was around the same time biotech seeds were first available to farmers. The corn industry was willing to accept biotechnology, while wheat was not and the results couldn’t be more telling.

Corn yields in North Dakota and South Dakota have more than doubled in the past 15 years. The same cannot be said about wheat, whose yields have maintained more of a flat-line trend during that same period.

These drastic increases in corn yields the Dakotas are experiencing have opened doors to new uses, industries, exports and further investments in advanced genetics. Those advancements continue to make corn production more efficient, allowing farmers to grow more while needing less land, water, fertilizers and pesticides.

In South Dakota, corn farmers lead the nation in adapting to biotechnology with a rate of 94 percent. There also are ethical reasons for adapting to biotechnology, especially when it comes to world hunger. If we are going to feed the world’s 7 billion people, we need to produce more protein per acre. With these new market opportunities and production possibilities, it’s not difficult to understand why wheat has lost ground in the acreage battle.

Editor’s Note: Smith is president of the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council.