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Biotech advantages spurring rapid adoption by farmers

From almost science fiction to necessary tool: such has been the rapid evolution of agricultural biotechnology as farmers capitalize on its production enhancements and cost-effectiveness.

And more's coming down the pike as science leapfrogs on what's already been accomplished, editors of Primediabusiness agricultural magazines said at a National AgriMarketing Association forum in Kansas City.

Acceptance by Southern farmers of genetically engineered crops “has been phenomenal,” says Forrest Laws, executive editor for Farm Press Publications. “They've moved to Roundup Ready, Bollgard, and other new varieties because it helps simplify their lives. These seed may cost more than conventional varieties, but they allow producers to get more done more efficiently.”

Combined with precision farming systems, growers are better able to tailor seeding rates and fertilizer/chemical applications to achieve higher yields at lower cost.

While moving enthusiastically into new technologies, Laws says, farmers have also been active in adopting production measures that will help keep older, effective materials on the market. “Agriculture has done a good job of lobbying the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies to keep useful products available.”

U.S. farmers will have to utilize new technologies in order to stay competitive in world markets, says Greg Lamp, editor of Corn and Soybean Digest.

“Farmers in South America, with cheaper land and labor, are nipping at our heels. We've got to stay on top of these new technologies or they'll pass us.”

U.S. crops will be moving more from plants with genetically engineered input traits to those with specific output traits, Lamp says. These will include genes to produce medical components to fight health problems such as cystic fibrosis and heart disease. “Farmers are going to be producing foods that are healthier for consumers.”

And he says, “Everyone is hoping Congress passes the energy bill, with its increased emphasis on ethanol. Already, 10 percent of the U.S. corn crop is used for ethanol, and new hybrids are being developed especially for this market.”

Biotechnology “has revolutionized the seed industry,” says Karen McMahon, editor of Farm Industry News.

“Crop seeds are being customized to include more complex traits that can be turned on or off by certain conditions.” Future seeds, she says, may contain genetic codes that will allow them to tolerate wide variations in environment, “perhaps allowing a farmer to plant a crop at any time of the year, with the seed programmed to germinate when proper conditions occur.”

In the animal sector, Dale Miller, editor of National Hog Farmer, says several projects are under way to identify genes for disease resistance, so producers could better control costly diseases in their herds and reduce the potential for antibiotic resistance. Scientists are also looking for ways to manipulate genes to reduce stress in animals and increase production efficiency.

Primediabusiness Chief Executive Officer Martin Maleska says the developments in biotechnology only skim the surface of the revolution that is occurring in information. “What's needed more than ever is the insight of knowledgeable, experienced people, such as our agricultural magazine editors, to help provide insight to our readers as to what that information can mean to them and how they can best use it.”

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