Experts Confident Drought-Tolerant Crops Will be Available to Farmers in the Next Decade
Experts predict that the current consumption rate of water for agriculture is not sustainable and that by 2025 two out of three people will live in drought or water-stressed conditions.1 In addition, erratic weather patterns and the possibility of warmer temperatures from climate change will increase the threat of crop failures and food shortages.
Fortunately, research in agricultural biotechnology holds the promise of high yield crops that will be able to withstand environmental stresses.
Speaking at the BIO International Convention in San Diego on a panel hosted by the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI), Dr. Chris Zinselmeier, Program Leader for Water Optimization Technologies for Syngenta, stated, "We are seeing very positive results in experimental lines of plants under drought conditions and can be optimistic about bringing these plants to market in the next decade."
The panel discussed ongoing research and achievements of biotechnology in the development of crops that have a greater tolerance for water scarcity.
Dr. Zinselmeier was joined on the panel by Dr. Michael Metzlaff, Group Leader for Crop Productivity Research for Bayer Inc.; Dr. Randy Allen, Departments of Biological Sciences and Plant and Soil Sciences at Texas Tech University; and Dr. Gail McLean, National Program Leader, Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Allen stated, "We are taking on the challenge of developing crops that will provide farmers with the best traits of both high yields and tolerance to stress. I believe we have seen significant progress in that research."
For more than a decade, farmers have used plants improved through biotechnology to help combat environmental stresses such as insects and weeds. Today, researchers in agricultural biotechnology are developing a new generation of plants that are optimized to maintain yield capacity through periods of water scarcity. In effect, these plants will have the ability to use water more efficiently, producing "more crop per drop" of water.
Field testing for the development of drought-tolerant corn, cotton, canola and other crops is well underway and preliminary results have been positive. Such developments could result in improved yields in variable or dry years, less need for irrigation in normal years and better yields on land previously considered marginal for cost-effective production.
Every year, drought causes reduced crop yields across the globe. In the United States, one-third of corn acres suffer from yield-reducing drought stress.
Underlining the critical importance of development of drought resistant crops, Dr. Metzlaff stated, "The increased tolerance of crops to major environmental stresses and the enhancement of productivity will be critical as water scarcity and the world population grows. We must continue to develop plants that withstand short term stresses, increase yield stability and allow planting in high stress areas."
1 Coping with Water Scarcity, United Nations Water Scarcity Initiative, p. 2, August 2006.
ABOUT THE COUNCIL FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY INFORMATION
The Council for Biotechnology Information communicates science-based information about the benefits and safety of agricultural biotechnology and its contributions to sustainable development. Its members are the leading agricultural biotechnology companies. Plant biotechnology is already helping the world grow more and better food. It is also producing greater yields of crops used to produce biofuels to help meet our country’s energy needs. In addition, the development of drought-tolerant crops is helping farmers cope with drought and water shortages, in order to better preserve and manage our water resources. This new technology holds even more promise for a sustainable future in each of these areas.
For more information about biotechnology and drought, click here.