Within the past year or so, USDA released a report about the future of biotechnology in agriculture that is quite interesting. This report, “Opportunities and Challenges in Agricultural Biotechnology: The Decade Ahead,” was the result of over two years of study, data review and discussions by the 20 member USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21). During the past decade, biotechnology has been mainstreamed in many commodities that are commonly raised by U.S. farm producers. In 2005, 52% of corn, 87% of soybeans, and 79% of cotton raised in the U.S. originated from genetically modified (GMO) seed varieties. Globally, transgenic crops were planted on approximately 222 million acres, or about 5.8% of the 3.8 billion crop acres worldwide. Many of the GMO traits in U.S. crops have been related to weed and insect management, such as Roundup Ready varieties and Bt corn. The reduced use of harmful pesticides has benefited both producers and the environment. The Roundup Ready varieties have also been more conducive to utilization of conservation tillage, and have allowed row-crop production to expand into more fringe areas of the traditional Corn Belt.
With technology advances changing so rapidly, it is very difficult to identify exactly what biotechnology-derived advances in plants or animals we will see in the future. However, the AC21 committee identified the following agriculture biotechnology advances that could be likely in the next decade :
Around the world, and in some segments of the U.S., there continues to be considerable resistance to further development of biotechnology in agriculture. Even though the biotechnology benefits to agriculture producers and to enhancing the environment are well documented, many groups and consumers are very wary of potential unknown human risks associated with GMO foods derived from genetically engineered plants and animals. Many of these groups would like to see greater government intervention and regulation of GMO crops and animals in the U.S. and worldwide, beyond the food safety criteria and standards that already exist in the U.S. and other countries. Agriculture biotechnology, which is achieved in a manner that is efficient and safe to humans and animals, offers tremendous hope and opportunities for future efficiencies in agriculture production, enhancements to the environment, development of alternative fuels and human health advancements.
Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.