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Ag must adapt to climate

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Precision agriculture, breeding of drought and heat tolerant hybrids and varieties, digitization, conservation-tillage, cover crops and other tools will be needed for agriculture to address climate change.

Agriculture will need to change as the climate changes. So says Luke Bozeman, director of North American crop protection for BASF, who adds cropping practices will need to be adapted and technology applied to meet the climate challenges. Bozeman emphasizes that collaboration among crop protection companies will be required.

“One company, like a Bayer, a BASF or a Syngenta, one company, I don’t think can do it all. What we’re going to see is a lot more collaborations to share the costs and the risks of investing in some innovations for future potential changes,” Bozeman said at a forum on climate change and agriculture at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in Research Triangle Park.

Bozeman said more integrated solutions will be needed for agriculture to address climate change. Precision agriculture, breeding of drought and heat tolerant hybrids and varieties, digitization, conservation-tillage, cover crops and other tools will be needed.

“When I look back at the history of my time in industry, more likely as not we focused on a very narrow spectrum in the past. And that’s going to change. We’ve already seen it change,” Bozeman said.

“I think we’re going to see new breeding tools that are going to be enabled. We’ve got tremendous tools already, whether it be conventional breeding, molecular breeding, biotechnology or transgenic trait development. We have gene editing that’s getting more and more prevalent as well. I think all of those tools are going to a be extremely important in staying ahead of the curve,” he said.

Breeding programs will need to be developed to shift to more drought tolerant varieties with programs specifically looking at lines that perform better under moisture stress. Modifying crop rotations is important too.

“Weed Science or Agronomy 101 teaches you that crop rotation is a good thing. Monoculture is not a good thing, yet we tend to do more monoculture than strong crop rotations. I think longer-term we’re going to see more active crop rotations,” Bozeman said.

“Drought is one thing; excessive moisture could be another. A lot of the farmers I work with that didn’t expect to have to tile for drainage in certain parts of the world are having to put in drainage tiles,” he added.

Bozeman said climate change is expected to negatively impact crop yields in the hungriest parts of the world, more so in tropical areas and in sub-Saharan Africa. He said North America is expected to be impacted less.

Growing water use and rising temperatures are expected to increase water stress in many agricultural areas. However, Bozeman did say some crops in the United States will be more impacted by higher temperatures and rising carbon dioxide levels than others.

“Sorghum and corn are projected to have net losses in yield, but others such as rice and soybeans are expected to have some benefit from the warming. These data are constantly being revised and evaluated as new models are built and better understood,” Bozeman said.

As the climate changes, Bozeman said data would predict that more frequent periods of drought will occur which will have a devastating impact not only on the area of production, but also on worldwide trade. In fact, he said worldwide peaks in grain prices in 2012 and 2013 can be tracked to droughts in parts of the world that created those price fluctuations.

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