Adoption rates for genetically engineered (GE) crops increased rapidly following their commercial introduction in the United States in 1996. Soybeans and cotton have been among the most widely adopted GE crops in the United States, followed by corn. Although other GE traits have been developed (such as virus and fungus resistance, drought resistance, and enhanced protein, oil, or vitamin content), HT (herbicide-tolerant) and Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis, indicating insect-resistant, containing genes from the soil bacterium Bt) traits are the most commonly used in U.S. crop production. While HT seeds are also widely used in alfalfa, canola, and sugar beet production, most GE acres are planted to three major field crops: corn, cotton, and soybeans.
This data product summarizes the adoption of herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant corn, cotton, and soybeans. Data are provided by year, State, and genetically engineered seed trait, as obtained by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in the Crops/Stocks Survey (or Agricultural Survey) for 2000–23. The Agricultural Survey began including questions about GE adoption rates for corn, cotton, and soybean in 2000, so data from other sources are needed to estimate GE adoption rates for 1996–99.
The June Agricultural Survey
The 2000–23 GE adoption data were collected as part of the Crops/Stocks Survey that NASS conducts during the first 2 weeks of June and publishes in the NASS Acreage report (the June version of the Crops/Stocks survey is referred to as the June Agricultural Survey throughout this document). Randomly selected farmers across the United States were asked during the first 2 weeks of June if they planted seed that, through biotechnology, were 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 (non-GE) were excluded from this portion of the survey. Insect-resistant varieties include only those containing the gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Seeds that have both herbicide tolerant and insect resistant traits are referred to as "stacked."
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), 1.6–8.9 percent for insect-resistant (Bt)-only varieties; 1.6–4.8 percent for herbicide-tolerant-only varieties; and 0.6–10.8 percent for stacked-gene varieties. Variability for the 29–31 soybean States is 0.3–1.2 percent for herbicide-tolerant varieties, depending on the year. Variability for the 17 upland cotton States is 0.4–3.0 percent for all GE varieties, 4.6–21.4 percent for insect-resistant (Bt)-only varieties, 2.6–14.4 percent for herbicide-tolerant-only varieties, and 0.9–11.6 percent for stacked-gene varieties.
Other Data Sources
Because the June Agricultural Survey began reporting data on GE adoption rates for corn, cotton, and soybean varieties in 2000, two other USDA surveys are used to provide estimates of adoption rates for 1996–99.
Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) (for 1996–98). The ARMS surveys developed by the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of USDA have been conducted annually for selected crops since 1996. These surveys solicit information about farmers’ input choices, their technology use (including the use of genetically engineered crops), their management techniques, their yields, and their financial conditions. 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.
Objective Yield Survey (for 1999). The 1999 adoption data are based on responses to the 1999 Objective Yield and Farm Operator Survey. The information was published in October 1999 in the NASS report Crop Production. In 1999, the Objective Yield Surveys for corn, soybeans, and cotton were conducted in States accounting for approximately 75 percent of U.S. production. Randomly selected plots in corn (for grain), soybean, and upland cotton fields were visited monthly from August through harvest to obtain specific counts and measurements. The 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 (non-GE). Insect-resistant varieties include those containing Bt. Notably, these data are intended to show trends in production practices but are not recognized as official estimates by USDA's Agricultural Statistics Board.
Comparability Across Surveys
Data from the three surveys are not comparable because none of the surveys were specifically designed to collect data on GE varieties. Consequently, the coverage of the three surveys often differs. There are also differences in the base acreage used to calculate the percentage of adoption (unlike the other surveys, which report adoption rates in percent of planted acres, the Objective Yield Survey reports adoption rates in percent of harvested acres), and differences in the language of the questions.
This data product summarizes the adoption of herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant corn, cotton, and soybeans. The tables provide data obtained by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in the June Agricultural Survey (published in the annual NASS Acreage report) for 2000–23. The tables in this product are provided by year, State, and genetically engineered seed trait, for corn, upland cotton, and soybeans.
The "other States" category in the data files includes all other States in the crop estimating program. Several States do not have individual values published before 2005 and are indicated by a period in the cell. The values in the category "All GE Varieties" may not equal the sum of the components due to rounding. Values less than 1 percent are indicated with an asterisk.
ERS does not modify the data published in the annual NASS Acreage report.
Additional details about the surveys referenced above can be found in:
- Adoption of Bioengineered Crops (AER-810, May 2002)
- Crops/Stocks (Agricultural Survey)
- ARMS Farm Financial and Crop Production Practices
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., October 2023.