The invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago made it possible for humans to form the first of the world’s civilisations. Today, agricultural land takes up 38 per cent of the global land surface. However, the rapid increase in population is putting a strain on the sector of agriculture, leading to a pressing global issue: food security.
Fortunately, agriculture has an ally in the form of biotechnology research. This branch of applied sciences is instrumental in addressing global hunger, as well as alleviating the negative consequences of traditional farming such as pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, the fusion between these two disciplines has led to ground-breaking innovations that not only empower farmers but also influence decision-makers in the agricultural sector. In this article, we explore six compelling benefits of biotech research in agriculture that are changing the game for farmers everywhere.
1. Boosted Crop Yields
Since the advent of agriculture, humans have been improving domesticated crops through selective breeding, which involves choosing seeds or other inputs from the most productive plants. In fact, the wild versions of modern cultivars are vastly different and virtually unrecognisable from the produce you can find in groceries and supermarkets today. For instance, did you know that wild bananas actually contain large seeds or that the first corn harvests were barely edible?
Today, biotech research is driving the advancements in the field of genetic engineering, where plant DNA is edited to ensure higher crop yields. In China, the genetic manipulation of a rice variety to increase its photosynthesis and fertiliser absorption capacities resulted in 40% more grains. With these promising results, scientists in biotech wet lab facilities all over the world are proving to be beacons of hope in addressing world hunger, especially in developing nations.
2. Shorter Crop Growing Seasons
In agriculture, time is of the essence. With a short growing season, especially for milder climates, crop harvests are limited to one or 2 times a year. However, biotechnology has given farmers the power to shorten crop growing seasons, allowing them to reap the rewards of their labour more frequently than in previous generations.
This innovation is a game-changer, especially for regions with limited growing seasons. It opens up new possibilities for farmers to diversify their crops and increase their income. Moreover, the ability to adapt to changing climate patterns and optimise land usage has never been more attainable.
3. Improved Resistance to Pests and Diseases
The battle against pests and diseases has been a constant struggle for farmers throughout history. But with biotech research providing a formidable weapon in this fight, farmers are given the upper hand.
Genetically modified crops can now boast built-in resistance to common agricultural threats, reducing crop losses and the need for chemical interventions.
The positive environmental impact of reduced pesticide usage cannot be overstated. It contributes to a more sustainable and eco-friendly agricultural operation, preserving the delicate balance of our ecosystems. Ultimately, biotechnology offers not only increased yields but also a greener approach to farming.
4. Reduced Dependence on Agricultural Chemicals
One of the most important ways in which biotechnology revolutionizes agriculture is through the reduced need for chemical pesticides and herbicides as well as chemical fertilisers. Farmers can now cultivate their crops without relying on too much chemical inputs, saving them money and allowing them to minimise environmental harm. Instead of chemicals, biotech innovations such as biofertilisers and biopesticides are recommended to enhance soil health and plant health while allowing farming to remain sustainable.
The shift towards more sustainable farming practices aligns perfectly with the global call for responsible stewardship of our planet. Biotech research empowers farmers to adopt eco-friendly methods that benefit both their bottom line and the environment.
5. Enhanced Nutritional and Flavour Profile of Food Products
What if the food on our plates could be more nutritious and tastier than ever before? Biotech research is making this a reality. In fact, scientists are enhancing the nutritional content of crops, making them more nutrient-dense and beneficial for our health. Some of these biofortified crops are staples, such as rice and wheat, as well as feed crops to enhance the growth of livestock and poultry.
Meanwhile, these innovations are also used to elevate the taste and appearance of food products. For instance, genetically modified tomatoes carrying the geraniol compound that enhances the aroma were found to be better tasting than the typical tomatoes. Other GMO crops that were given similar taste enhancements are eggplant, cherries, and watermelon. With these nutrient and flavour enhancements, farmers can offer high-quality produce at potentially higher market prices.
6. Better Food Processing and Preservation
The benefits of biotech research extend beyond the fields and into our kitchens. Food processing and preservation have been revolutionised by biotechnology. Since food products with extended shelf lives mean reduced food wastage, it’s a crucial step towards a more sustainable future.
As we move forward into a future marked by population growth and environmental challenges, the role of biotech research in agriculture becomes even more crucial. It will empower farmers to meet the ever-increasing demand for food sustainably, and it will also provide a roadmap for decision-makers to shape agricultural policies that will benefit everyone.