Every growing season has its production challenges, and 2007 has been no different. Here are some random observations from a farmer perspective on where I think biotech crop traits made a difference this year in our growing area.
Wet conditions early on would have made it difficult for timely spraying, were it not for herbicide-tolerant technology, in the crops that have it.
I think Roundup Ready is really going to catch on with sugar beet growers beginning next year, who will have more spraying flexibility, make fewer trips across the field (saving fuel) have better safety to beets compared to using other herbicides, and get improved weed control/cleaner fields (for example, control of acetolactate synthase resistant kochia).
Stored soil moisture helped carry crops in many areas that turned dry mid-season. No-till is key to preserving soil moisture, and there’s no question no-till wouldn’t be near at the adoption rate it is today without herbicide-tolerant crops. In the U.S. alone, farmers have increased no-till farming acres by about 35 percent since 1996 when biotech crops were first planted.
There are some observations that the biotechnology that helps control rootworm and corn borer also helps develop a stronger root system to help the corn plant through weather stress.
Now, some areas where I’d like to see traits or where traits could have made a difference:
This is one of the most frustrating early season pest problems that cuts (literally) across a number of crops. Biotechnology would allow us to get away from erratic control with seed treatments and post-emerge foliar insecticide rescue treatments.
Weeds in non-biotech crops
Like nightshade in pintos, and marshelder and kochia in sunflower. The ease of weed control in biotech crops like corn and soybeans is a key reason why acreage of these crops continues to increase while others are declining.
Wouldn’t it be great to see a biotech answer to blackbird damage in sunflower and corn? A biotech answer to this problem, maybe something that repels instead of kills, would gain the support of environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts and help protect crop yield.
Disease tolerance in wheat
Fungicides paid off in winter wheat to help avoid scab. Maybe introduce biotech to winter wheat before spring wheat: how about a Fusarium tolerant, herbicide tolerant, winter kill tolerant HRW with better protein?
Tolerance to weather stress
Imagine a crop with a root system that helps the plant to better withstand standing water, cold weather, or drought stress. You hear comments from other producers whose crops were damaged or ruined by drought that “just one more week could have made a difference.”
With the skyrocketing cost of fertilizer, this would be a huge benefit in reducing input costs.
This commentary was submitted by Terry Wanzek, a farmer from Windsor, N.D. Wanzek is a member of Growers for Biotechnology, an all-farmer non-profit group in the Northern Plains who volunteer time to promote and facilitate the research, development and acceptance of biotechnology in agriculture, focusing primarily on crops.