PRINTABLE VERSION   EMAIL TO A FRIEND   RSS FEEDS 12:11 UK, 24th May 2016, by Mike Verdin
'About 80%' of Ukraine soy grown - illegally - from GM seed

About 80% of Ukraine's soybeans, and 10% of corn, are grown illegally from genetically modified seed, US officials said, attributing improved seed quality in part for expectations for strong harvests this year.

The US Department of Agriculture - expanding on an initial estimate two weeks ago that Ukraine will produce a record 5.0m tonnes of soybeans this year - said the forecast reflected in part expectations of yield matching an all-time high of 2.17 tonnes per hectare, supported by genetically engineered seed.

"Although the planting of genetically modified crops is officially prohibited, estimates from private commodity analysts suggest that about 80% of Ukraine's soybeans are genetically modified," the USDA said.

While the USDA, and some other commentators, have previously raised reports of Ukrainian farmers unlawfully using genetically modified seed, the 80% figure is higher than those, often of around 30%, previously suggested.

The scramble by Ukraine farmers to boost yields comes in the face of "increasing demand" for soybeans, both for export and from the country's poultry industry, with Monsanto's Roundup Ready seed believed to be the most common GM variety adopted.

GM corn

For corn, "roughly 10%" of Ukraine corn this year will be grown from genetically modified seed, the USDA said, although it highlighted too the role of hybrid seed varieties in improving the country's production prospects for the grain.

While Ukraine's imports of hybrid seed fell last year, "and are on pace to decrease this year as well", the growth in domestically-produced alternatives will at least in part make up for the decline.

The USDA restated an estimate of Ukrainian corn output recovering by 2.7m tonnes this year, to 26.0m tonnes, from last year's drought-hit levels, on an assumption that the yield will beat the five-year average by 5%.

Ukraine is a major exporter of corn to buyers including China, which has strict controls over imports of genetically modified crops, and shown a willingness to enforce them as US merchants discovered to their cost two years ago.

Chinese trade data on Monday showed that of 1.16m tonnes of corn the country imported last month, 1.01m tonnes came from Ukraine.

Some commentators believe that Ukraine corn shipments are escaping Chinese sanction either through a lack of testing or, if investigations are made, their contamination with genetically modified varieties which Beijing has approved for import.

Wheat prospects

The USDA report highlighted the role of hybrid seed in a forecast of an all-time-high sunflower seed harvest too, of 12.0m tonnes, flagging a recovery in imported varieties after drops over the past two seasons.

"Imports from October 2015 through February 2016 stand at a record level, and suggest that total hybrid sunflower imports for the 2016 planting season will rebound," the briefing said.

Production prospects for spring crops such as corn, soybeans and sunflowers are also being enhanced by the extra area for potential sowings, after "excessive" autumn dryness depressed plantings of winter grains.

"The area sown to winter crops last autumn decreased by about 1.2m hectares, which has significantly increased the area available for the planting of spring crops."

The USDA restated an estimate that the Ukraine wheat crop, which is nearly all winter seeded, will come in at 24.0m tonnes down 3.3m tonnes from the 2015 result, which was the highest in 25 years, but well above expectations a couple of months ago.

"Conditions had improved substantially by the time winter crops fully resumed vegetative growth in the spring," the USDA said, estimating the wheat yield at 3.75 tonnes per hectare, 8.3% above the five-year average, if a little lower year on year.

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