Today is World Water Day, a day set aside annually on March 22 as a means to focus attention on the importance of freshwater and to encourage people everywhere to sustainably use water resources. It’s also a day to think about the role agricultural biotechnology can play in helping people who most rely on water for their livelihood - our farmers.
Water in the form of irrigation and rainfall is essential for all food production. And agriculture accounts for about 70% of global freshwater usage, according to the United Nations, and as much as 90% in some fast-growing economies.
Fresh in our memory is last summer’s record drought, the worst experienced in the United States since 1988. About 87 percent of the nation’s corn crop and 85 percent of soybeans experienced drought conditions last July and August, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The result was lower corn, soybean and other crop yields across the Midwest and South, generating less income for farmers and farm communities.
Amidst last year’s drought, there was hope offered by new biotechnology technologies that can help farmers cope with drought. Farmers who planted new varieties of drought-tolerant corn last year found these crops to be more resilient to drought conditions than other varieties. There are other promising biotech seed varieties in the research and development pipeline that will help farmers get “more crop per drop” of precious water.
For farmers, the reality is that every day is World Water Day, because crops will always need water. But any technology that enables plants to use it more efficiently can give our farmers an edge - even a small one - to grow the food we need to feed America and export to others around the world.
New, drought-resistant strains of corn helped farmers get through the drought in 2012 that cut the harvest to about 75 percent of what would have been expected with ordinary weather, according to “U.S. Drought 2012: Farm and Food Impacts,” a recent USDA report. Even with pressure from the drought, the harvest was a quite sizeable.
“The harvest was the eighth largest in U.S. history, a reflection of a big increase in recent years in the number of acres planted and crop technology that has improved plants’ ability to withstand drought,” according to a recent article from the Associated Press. READ MORE »
Last summer, as the United States faced the worst drought since 1988, the Council for Biotechnology Information shared stories of seed companies who were working with farmers across America’s farm belt to conduct field trials of drought-tolerant corn varieties, including Monsanto’s DroughtGardTM Hybrids, DuPont Pioneer’s hybrid AQUAmaxTM, and Syngenta’s Agrisure ArtesianTM.
Initial results of these field trials were positive, and the positive feedback has continued. This week, Syngenta announced that expanded results from 2012 field trials confirmed the drought-resistant variety’s impressive yields, reinforcing the importance of the role of agricultural technologies in mitigating the effects of drought on the U.S. and global food supply in the future.
With the corn harvest underway in the Midwest, farmers are evaluating the performance of new drought-resistant corn varieties after the unusually dry summer, The Kansas City Star reports. Gary Plunkett, an Iowa farmer and seed dealer, is satisfied with his first-ever sample of drought-resistant corn. “[It] looks like the yield is going to be up there very well. The stalk quality looks great. It’s standing very well,” Plunkett said. He plants a variety from Syngenta. DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto also have drought-resistant varieties.
While some farmers lost everything to extreme drought or severe winds this year, others used the severe conditions to test drought-resistant corn seeds, and are pleased by the early returns. “I know when I had my first drought in 1977 that we actually had 3 bushels to the acre. If I would have had the hybrids today back then, we would have never had that kind of a drought, because with the hybrids today it’s just amazing what they’re pulling through,” Bill Couser, who also farms in Iowa, pointed out. Read more.
A review of available scientific evidence about genetically modified (GM) crops clearly indicates their benefits for environmental sustainability and managing drought, according to an article by New Scientist.
“By reducing the need for tilling, for example, GM crops have enabled farmers to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, a small but important contribution to the fight against climate change. And GM promises more: creating drought-resistant crops that will thrive in the warmer climates of the future, for instance,” it points out in the October issue of the magazine.
The journal notes that considering biotechnology along with other agricultural traditions is necessary to develop solutions for “more productive, sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture.” Read more.