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What is helping to protect our wetlands and wildlife habitats?

Overview

Published: 06/02/2016

by Arielle Duke

“Wetland and habitat conservation are important, and with growing market forces that say we don't want new land brought into production, we can use biotechnology to produce more without sacrificing those areas,” says Thoroughgood.

Wetlands and wildlife habitats are an important part of our environmental ecosystems.

Many are threatened by urban growth, especially in Eastern Canada, and agricultural expansion, particularly in the Prairies.

One of the solutions to stopping the loss is a tool few people associate with habitat conservation – genetically modified (GM) crops, also called plant biotechnology.

“Biotechnology is one of the tools we can use to increase the amount of food we produce without increasing agriculture's footprint,” explains Paul Thoroughgood, a regional agrologist with Ducks Unlimited Canada, an organization dedicated to wetland conservation.

“There's an increasing demand for agricultural goods throughout the world and growing pressure on the agricultural world to produce more, and we can do that with biotechnology and managing our nutrients. Those non-productive acres are the most important ones from an ecological perspective,” he adds.

Many GM crops like canola, soybeans and corn, are resistant to certain herbicides, allowing farmers to grow crops in areas where they wouldn't otherwise be able to because of weed problems, for example. They've also been bred to achieve higher yields (more crops harvested per acre of land planted) so that farmers can increase their production without having to use more land.

Jake Leguee grows canola, soybeans and cereal crops like wheat on his family's Saskatchewan farm. He wouldn't be able to grow canola at all if they weren't using GM varieties, he says, due to the weed pressure in his region. Yields have also improved significantly in the 15 years since the Leguee farm started growing GM canola, which lets them grow more food from the same amount of land.

Statistics show that without modern crop growing tools, like biotechnology and pesticides, Canada would need to convert 37 million more acres of land to farm production to produce the same amount that farmers do today – that's roughly equal to the total amount of land being currently used for farming in Saskatchewan.

“Wetland and habitat conservation are important, and with growing market forces that say we don't want new land brought into production, we can use biotechnology to produce more without sacrificing those areas,” says Thoroughgood.

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