The Influence of Genetic Modification Technologies on U.S. and EU Crop Yields

Brester, Gary; Atwood, Joseph; Watts, Myles; and Anita Kawalski (2019). Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics


The World Health Organization defines genetically modified (GM) crops as plants in which DNA has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally through plant breeding. In the past, genetic modification has been used to produce plants that are resistant to pests or certain herbicides. More recently, this technology has been used to improve the drought resistance of corn.

Over 90% of U.S. corn and soybean acreage is planted with genetically modified (GM) seed varieties. GM technological advances have allowed for increased food production, lower food prices, and more efficient use of labor. This paper quantifies differences between U.S. and EU corn and soybean yield trends over the past 6 decades to determine whether GM crop technologies have altered historical production relationships between the two regions.

This paper allowed for both linear and nonlinear trends in corn and soybean yields, then tested models to determine the best-fitting form. Wheat—which is a major commodity for both the U.S. and EU but is not commercially produced using GM technologies—was used as a comparison.

This paper finds that U.S. corn yields have followed an increasing, linear trend over the past 60 years because of the introduction of a plethora of technological advances.  EU corn yields historically followed a similar upward trend until the introduction of GM technologies in the U.S.  Because the EU does not allow the use of GM technologies, EU corn yields have flattened relative to U.S. corn yields. Since the introduction of GM technologies to soybeans, EU soybean yields have remained flat, while U.S. yields have increased and now even exceed those of the European Union. While several factors may have caused these yield trend disparities, it is interesting to note that wheat (a non-GM crop) yields have increased at comparable rates between the two regions.

The gains in crop yield experienced in developed countries over the past 6 countries have occurred because of the development of new technologies, including the genetic modification of crops. Increasing yield trends can only occur if new technologies are adopted. Banning yield-enhancing technologies will result in food production being lower than its full potential.