Future Of Ag Biotechnology

USDA recently released a report about the future of biotechnology in agriculture that is quite interesting. This report, titled “Opportunities and Challenges in Agricultural Biotechnology: The Decade Ahead,” was the result 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 the corn, 87% of the soybeans, and 79% of the 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’s 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:

· Genetically engineered plant varieties that could provide improved human nutrition.
· Genetically improved plant varieties that enhance animal feed, and ultimately lead to higher quality consumer meat products.
· Crops that are more resistant to drought and other environmental stresses.
· Further advance of crops that are resistant to diseases and insects, and the addition of more crops with GMO traits.
· Greater advancement of “stacked” GMO traits, where the same plant can have multiple GMO characteristics at the same time.
· Crops engineered to produce pharmaceuticals, such as vaccines and antibodies to fight disease in humans and animals.
· Crops engineered for enhanced industrial uses, such as alternative energy production, or animal feed with less nutrient residue in the manure.
· Transgenic animal production with enhanced food and nutrition qualities, or for development of pharmaceutical products for human use.

Around the world, and in some segments of the U.S., there continues to be considerable resistance to the 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.

Editors 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 kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.