Plant science plays an important role in helping farmers use our planet’s precious natural resources wisely to feed a growing world population. Check out how innovations are helping farmers grow more food while preserving our environment.
1. Limiting Farmland Expansion
Plant science allows farmers to grow more food on existing farmland. For example, if biotech crops had not been available to the 17.3 million farmers using it in 2012, maintaining global production levels would have required cultivating:
An extra 4.9 million hectares of land for soybeans,
An extra 6.9 million hectares of land for corn,
An extra 3.1 million hectares of land for cotton, and,
An extra 0.2 million hectares of land for canola.
Altogether, since 1992 biotech crops have saved farmland expansion of 132 million hectares. Check out this PG Economics article for more stats on making the most of arable land.
2. Preserving biodiversity
Advances in crop protection have allowed farmers to make the most of existing cropland and curb expanding acres into biodiverse areas. Between 35 and 42 per cent of the world’s potential crop production is lost annually due to weeds, insects, diseases and other pests. These losses would double without crop protection products, forcing farmers cultivate more land. Learn more about ways plant science is preserving biodiversity.
3. Reducing greenhouse gases
Plant biotechnology and crop protection products have helped farmers significantly cut their greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change. Herbicide tolerant crops facilitate no-till farming which leaves soil undisturbed and keeps carbon in the ground. In 2013 alone, this helped reduce CO2 emissions by 28 billion kilograms – equivalent to taking 12.4 million cars off the road for one year. Here are more ways farmers are dealing with climate change.
4. Conserving water
Water shortages are a constant threat to farmers in Africa. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that by 2025 approximately 480 million people in Africa could be living in areas of water scarcity. To prepare for this challenge, plant scientists are researching drought tolerant traits to use water more efficiently. For example, the Water-Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project is developing ways to double maize yields through conventional and marker-assisted breeding and plant biotechnology.
5. Protecting soil
Up to 50,000 square kilometers of soil (about the size of Costa Rica) is lost every year to soil erosion and the world’s agriculture industry is working hard to stop this trend. Sustainable farming practices such as no-till help preserve our soil and reduce erosion. In Canada, for example, farmers who planted herbicide-tolerant canola and used no-till techniques reduced soil erosion by 86 percent. Read more about how crop protection is preserving our soil.