A field trial of drought-tolerant corn took place at Western Kentucky University. Photo courtesy Syngenta.
This summer’s severe drought, which has resulted in substantial crop losses throughout the entire Midwest, has put the latest agricultural technologies to the test, MIT’s Technology Review reports. Agricultural researchers and scientists are developing plant breeding and biotechnology innovations which can improve a crop’s ability to use water more efficiently and tolerate drought conditions, in hopes of addressing future challenges presented by adverse weather conditions.
Farmers participating in field trials of drought-tolerant varieties have reported positive results thus far. Illinois farmer Mike Cyrulik notes that his healthier drought-tolerant corn has “wound up being the talk of the town,” adding that he expects a significantly higher yield in his acres planted with the drought-tolerant variety. Read more.
As our nation confronts the worst drought since 1988, scientific innovations in agriculture can help farmers minimize yield losses. There is no single solution, and the reality is that plants need water to survive. But agricultural researchers and scientists are developing plant breeding and biotechnology innovations which can improve a crop’s ability to use water more efficiently and tolerate drought conditions.
Some 87 percent of the nation’s corn crop and 85 percent of soybeans were experiencing drought in August, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which added, “Over half of the corn and soybean areas are experiencing extreme to exceptional drought. This has led to both reduced yields and earlier harvests.”
“A striking aspect of the 2012 drought is how the drought rapidly increased in severity in early July, during a critical time of crop development for corn and other commodities,” noted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA ERS).
To help alleviate the effects of drought on the U.S. and global food supply, seed companies are working with farmers across America’s farm belt to conduct field trials of drought-tolerant corn varieties.
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Beyond hitting nearly three-quarters of U.S. corn and soybean crops, drought has had a global impact on food price volatility and agricultural productivity. To help address these challenges, World Food Prize Laureate Catherine Bertini and former US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman call for supporting agricultural research and technologies that will help equip farmers with the tools they need to manage severe drought conditions.
They state in a Politico opinion piece, “We should increase support for the agricultural researchers, in the U.S. and around the world, who are developing remarkable new drought and flood tolerant crop varieties. The results of this research will be essential if the agricultural sector is to continue to meet food demand in the face of weather variability.” READ MORE »
This week New York Times focused in on pertinent issue of food security, with three articles on how we are going to meet the challenge of feeding the growing population at a time when a warming planet already threatens food supply. In a front page article for the Times titled “A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself”, reporter Justin Gillis details some of the challenges facing farmers around the world today, from unpredictable rains to volatile food prices. He writes about the “divine intervention of technology” for many rice farmers in India, who have been part of a field trial for a new variety of rice that is submergence-tolerant and can grow in floods. Read more.
Mr. Gillis followed-up on his piece with a blog post for New York Times Green that dives into the question of how farmers around the world - particularly those in developing countries - can meet food demand. In a post titled “Can the Yield Gap be Closed Sustainably”, he looks at agriculture in Africa and the effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide Africans farmers with advanced crop technologies, such as a genetically modified corn variety that is designed to resist drought. Read more.
In a second blog post, Justin Gillis looks at the effect a growing population, improved diets, scarce water and a shortage of land will have on the future of agriculture, food prices and the environment. To counteract this “clash” he writes that “the list of innovations needed to produce food on a warming planet is long and daunting.” Furthermore, he writes that the innovations need to come not just from private companies, but also governments, universities and foundations. He explains that we need a broad array of institutions working together to develop the next big idea to meet this challenge. Read more.
Lastly, keeping in the theme of innovations that will help us meet future food supply challenges, we wanted to share this very cool infographic produced in partnership by GOOD and the Gates Foundation. The infographic looks at the innovations that will help African farmers thrive. In particular, it shows that with better maize (corn) varieties that have been genetically engineered to survive on less water, farmers in Africa can achieve 30% more yield in drought-prone areas.
Scientist researching drought resistant wheat
According to NPR, scientists are researching ways to engineer wheat so it can thrive even when water is scarce. A drought impacting Russia this summer pushed wheat prices to their highest in years, underscoring the importance for a variety of wheat that can survive in droughts. In addition to wheat, scientists and researchers have already engineered drought-tolerant maize, and it could be sold commercially in just two years based on the regulatory process. Listen here.
Countries in Africa and Asia have much to gain economically from adopting GM crops
Biofortified posted a piece about a paper by Kym Anderson in New Biotechnology that shows that the potential economic benefits for those countries in Africa and Asia willing to adopt genetically modified (GM) crop varieties can be great. However, the countries would not gain economically under this model if they ban imports of GM crops. Read more.
Argentine Farmer writes that biotechnology is about human rights and eradicating hunger
Global Farmer-to-Farmer Roundtable participant Roberto Peiretti penned a piece about what he labels as “gene-ocide,” negatively portraying genetically modified crops without sound science. Roberto has always supported environmentally responsible agriculture and has committed to no-till agriculture for many years. He writes, “Biotechnology and its synergy with no-till agriculture have the potential to improve nutrition and feed a growing world by boosting agricultural productivity and profitability in a sustainable fashion. This is a synergy we need if we are going to succeed in doubling global agricultural production during the next thirty to fifty years.” Read more.