You can’t do anything about the rain that won’t fall,
or the rain that won’t stop falling.
“Farmers and ranchers are being told that it is necessary to double the food supply in the
next 30 years in order to feed an anticipated human population of over 9 billion people. Yet every category of production is being attacked, both through public relation campaigns and lawsuits such as the one filed by Toward Justice.
While local food production and farmers’ markets can feed those who have access to them, every aspect of growing food involves a lot of
expertise, planning, financing, management, marketing and labor.
Attacking every food and fiber product – from almonds to lamb to lettuce
is the height of arrogance and ignorance.”
-Sharon Salisbury O’Toole, The Shepherd magazine, October, 2015
There is no unbelief.
Whoever plants a seed beneath the sod,
And waits to see it push away the clod,
He trusts in God.
-Debbie Glover, farmwife, Bone Gap, Illinois
-Jim Wylie, Farm Owner
Climate change is definitely a hot-button issue at the moment. But whether we believe it or not, there are definitely some funky things going on with the weather across the world. That might not concern us too much right now, since we can drive on to the grocery store and buy whatever we want, but what about when the time comes when we can no longer do that?
We all know that farmers’ frenemy is the weather. Bad weather can ruin their whole crop, while perfect weather can make for an optimum crop. A change in the climate, however, could make it even more difficult for our world’s farmers to keep up with the demand for food.
Agricultural scientists have been working on crops that will survive and thrive in changing weather. Potatoes have come out as the go-to crop when times get tough. David Fleisher, an agricultural engineer at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, did an experiment to test potato growth under conditions of limited irrigation and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Their research found that potato plants will produce even more potatoes if they are planted earlier in the year when there is more sunlight. If they have adequate water during pre-tuber development, when the plant is growing leaves but has not yet started potato formation. Plants grown under these conditions have smaller leaf area, but more potatoes.
“We found that, except for the most severe droughts, tuber yields under elevated CO2 levels exceed tuber yields under current CO2 levels,” Fleisher says. “This could be in part because plant water-use efficiency can increase under elevated CO2 levels.”
He emphasized that this project was a chamber study in a controlled atmosphere, and not a field study, but the results suggest that potato farmers could adapt to changing atmospheric CO2 levels by ensuring that potato plants are adequately irrigated during crucial pre-tuber development stages. He also thinks data from the study might be used to test crop models and other tools used to assess drought management strategies under elevated CO2 conditions.
Not only are scientists working to develop crops that will grow under new circumstances, the changing weather is also giving farmers in some regions the opportunity to grow things they would not normally be able to grow.
For example, farmers in Canada are taking advantage of a tiny rise in average temperatures to grow crops that require warmer weather. Warmer-weather crops like grapes and peaches are being planted in greater numbers in Canada. In other areas of the country, corn and soybeans, which require longer periods of warmer weather, are being planted where they previously would not have thrived.
These climate changes may not be permanent, and they do vary year-by-year. The unpredictable weather is forcing farmers to be more risk adverse and to adapt more quickly to changes in the weather.
“One thing that we did see was that there are still risks for late spring frosts that can affect plants, and some plant species are more susceptible to that than others. Making use of that type of knowledge by planting certain species or hybrids that are more hearty to later frosts would be a big thing as far as risk management,” says Dan McKenney, a researcher at the Canadian Forest Service’s Great Lakes Forestry Center.
Despite this good news, Paul Bullock, a professor at the University of Manitoba, remains fearful as to what climate change could bring next for farmers.
“I’m not sure we’re ready to handle the variability that seems to be coming with some of the changes,” he said. “Variability is what kills us in agriculture. When one year is this way and the next year it’s totally the opposite, how do you adapt to that? That’s extremely difficult to do.”
So the next time you hear climate change discussed on the news, think and hope for the world’s farmers, who are facing an increasingly volatile and hostile environment, and must adapt quickly and effectively, for the sake of the world’s hungry people!
-Wilbur-Ellis, Ideas to Grow With
-John Aeschliman, No-till Farmer
-John Aeschliman, Farmer
Whew boy, what a question, right? We here are Kiss My Tractor are not pro-GMO nor are we anti-GMO. What we are is pro-science. This post discusses how biotechnology (Genetically Modified Organisms) works.
So, with that said… Just What Is Biotechnology? It’s easy to figure out if you break the word apart: Bio is short for biology, which is the study of all living things. Technology is another word for tools. Biotechnology then, is a tool that uses biology to make new products. For example, plant biotechnology is a precise way to make seed with special qualities. These seeds allow farmers to grow plants that are more nutritious, more resistant to pests or weeds and are more productive. Plant biotechnology is a tool for looking closer at nature to find solutions to improve the health of the Earth and its people.
Biotechnology enables scientists to look closer at genes and make improvements in them. Our bodies are composed of millions of individual units (cells). Within each cell are genes that carry all of the information which allows our bodies to work and determines how we look and grow.
We get our genes from our parents, which is why we may look like our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. All people, plants and animals inherit traits from their parents through their genes.
One of the first people to study how traits are passed from parents to their young was a monk in Austria named Gregor Mendel. About 150 years ago, he used plants to show how certain things, like flower size and color are passed on from the parent to the offspring.
Biotechnology enables scientists to study how plants grow and how they react to the environment. As a result, scientists can now insert a specific gene into a plant that will help it adapt to its environment, make it more pest resistant or even make it more nutritious.
Biotechnology can help farmers and the environment in may ways. Insects and weeds are big problems for farmers. They have many tools to choose from to protect their crops. Sometimes farmers use chemicals to help control the weeds and insects. Biotechnology is another option. For example, many farmers throughout the world grow cotton. Some young insects, or larvae, love to eat cotton plants. To stop the larvae from feasting on cotton plants, scientists have found ways to use biotechnology to help the cotton plant protect itself from insect larvae worms. Farmers who grow these biotech cotton plants do not need to spray as much insecticide on their crops, and they can still grow as much or more cotton per acre!
Weeds can be a problem, too. Weeds crowd out the farmer’s crops and rob them of water, light and nutrients they need to grow. Some farmers plow, disk or cultivate their fields to destroy these weeds, but tilling can cause severe soil erosion. Thanks to biotechnology, a farmer can manage the weeds without having to do extra tilling. This saves energy as well as the soil. Giving farmers more choices to control harmful insects and weeds help their farms and the environment.
Biotechnology has tremendous potential for improving the environment and our food supply for people around the world. While for centuries, farmers have been breeding plants to create better crops, biotechnology takes the process a giant step further. Agricultural biotechnology is a precise way to make seeds with special specific qualities. These seeds can allow farmers to grow plants that are more nutritious or more adaptable to their environment, more resistant to pests, and more productive.
For example, varieties of biotech corn have already been developed for regions of Africa which have saltier, drier and wetter conditions than past available corn would tolerate. In some areas, their yields there have quadrupled, enabling farmers to improve the lives, economics and health of their families. Golden rice, a biotech variety, has higher levels of beta-carotene, and is grown in Asia, where soils are deficient in Vitamin A. Golden Rice is improving the diets and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of young children there.
As our world population increases and we become more dependent on our farmers to produce higher yields and better nutrition, with less chemicals, less erosion and less water, biotechnology may prove to be the greatest aid in food production and environment protection we have ever seen.
*Ag Mag, an agricultural magazine for kids, permission from the Council of Biotechnology Information.