Despite the current and predicted agricultural challenges posed by climate change and increased demands on farmland and natural resources, farmers around the world are able to practice Earth-friendly farming thanks to agricultural biotechnology.
In celebration of Earth Day 2010, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is increasing awareness of the many environmental benefits provided by biotech crops, trees and genetically engineered animals.
Biotechnology provides tools and technologies that provide solutions to many of today’s global environmental challenges. Agricultural biotechnology provides environmental benefits by:
• Increasing production yields, thereby reducing pressures to force more land, often marginal and highly erodible land, into production;
• Using biotech herbicide tolerant crops that allow the use of no-till farming practices, enhancing soil moisture content, reducing erosion and limiting carbon dioxide emissions;
• Using biotech crops that need fewer applications of pesticides, and that thrive in a no-till environment, greatly reducing on-farm energy consumption and associated environmental impacts; and
• Reducing waste production from livestock feedlots and concentrated animal agriculture operations via biotechnology-improved feed products and biotech nutritional supplements for livestock.
“The world population is nearly 7 billion people, and that number is expected to reach 9 billion in the next two to three decades. Feeding and fueling a growing planet will require a 70 percent increase in agricultural productivity,” said Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, BIO’s Executive Vice President for Food and Agriculture. “Biotechnology can help us boost production in an environmentally sustainable way.”
Bomer-Lauritsen points to a recent report issued by the National Research Council that details the environmental benefits from biotech crops such as reductions in the use of pesticides, and increased use of tillage techniques that reduce soil erosion, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
“One of the most significant benefits of using biotech crops is the reduction in on-farm energy use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from no-till farming practices,” she said. “In 2007, for example, the 274 million acres of biotech crops resulted in a 31.3 billion-pound reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. This is equivalent to removing 6.3 million cars from the road for a year.”
But biotechnology is not just helping today’s farmers. It also is promising even more solutions to tomorrow’s challenges.
In the future, we’ll have biotech crops and trees that are more tolerant of environmental stresses such as drought, frost, floods and high-saline soils. We’ll see biotech crops that use soil nutrients such as nitrogen more efficiently, reducing the need for fertilizers. We’ll see genetically engineered animals that use feed more efficiently and produce less manure.
And we’ll see more dedicated energy crops and trees and agricultural waste such as cornstalks being used to create bio-based energy.
“Farmers are not defenseless in their struggle against evolving agriculture challenges and we can meet these challenges with solutions that are more environmentally friendly,” said Bomer-Lauritsen. “Biotechnology will continue to be one of the ‘greenest’ tools available to help farmers better provide the food, fuel and fiber to serve a growing population.”