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Plant biotechnology – a win for the environment

Overview

Published: 06/02/2016

by Arielle Duke

“Water efficient crops are an exciting and important development as the world's water supplies get tighter and scarcer,” says Yarrow. “This will help us produce more food and protect our natural resources while meeting the ever-increasing demands of the growing global population.”

 Canada would need to turn another 37 million acres into farmland to grow the same amount of food it does today if farmers stopped using plant biotechnology and crop protection tools. That's about as much land as is currently farmed in all of Saskatchewan.

“Plant science can help farmers protect valuable forests, wetlands and wildlife habitats,” says Stephen Yarrow, vice-president of plant biotechnology for CropLife Canada. “That's in addition to being able to grow more food while minimizing inputs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We all benefit from that kind of boost to our environment.”

Biotech crops are ones that have been genetically modified to be resistant to certain pests or herbicides, to be more adaptable to changing climate conditions or to have improved nutritional value. Herbicide-resistant crops make it easier for farmers to control weeds without having to plow the land or work the soil.

This type of conservation agriculture improves soil health, but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions because farmers are making fewer passes over every field with their tractors. In 2011, for example, this accounted for a 23 billion kilogram reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, which is the equivalent of removing more than 10 million cars from the road.

Plant biotechnology is also being used to develop crops that use water more efficiently or are more tolerant to drought conditions. As the climate changes, water scarcity is affecting key food growing areas like California and Australia, which could lead to food shortages in the future.

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