Author: JACQUI FATKA
IN light of ongoing debates on global food security, agricultural sustainability and climate change, it is important to recognise the benefits biotechnology brings to world agricultural production.
According to several research summaries released by PG Economics, those impacts are significant.
Biotech crops have contributed to significantly reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices.
The greenhouse gas emission reductions are derived from two principle sources: reduced fuel use from less-frequent herbicide or insecticide applications and reduced energy usage in soil cultivation from the use of no-till and reduced-till farming systems.
From 1996 to 2007, pesticide spraying was reduced by 359 million kilograms, which is equivalent to 125 per cent of the annual volume of pesticide active ingredient applied to arable crops in the European Union.
The fuel savings associated with making fewer spray runs (relative to conventional crops) and the switch to conservation, reduced-till and no-till farming systems have resulted in permanent savings in carbon dioxide emissions.
In 2007, this amounted to about 1.144 billion kilograms (attributable to reduced fuel use of 416 million litres).
From 1996 to 2007, the cumulative permanent reduction from fuel use was estimated at 7.09 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide (arising from reduced fuel use of 2.578 billion litres).
The use of no-till and reduced-till farming systems has increased significantly with the adoption of herbicide-tolerant biotech crops because the technology has improved growers’ ability to control competing weeds, which reduces reliance on soil cultivation and seed-bed preparation as a means for getting good levels of weed control.
As a result, tractor fuel use for tillage has dropped, soil quality has been enhanced and levels of soil erosion have been cut. In turn, more carbon remains in the soil, leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Based on savings arising from the rapid adoption of no-till and reduced-till farming systems in North and South America, an estimated extra 3.57 billion kilograms of soil carbon were sequestered in 2007 (equivalent to 13.103 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide that have not been released into the atmosphere).
Cumulatively, the amount of carbon sequestered is probably higher due to year-over-year benefits to soil quality.
However, due to the lack of data on the crop area in continuous no-till systems, PG Economics said it is not possible to confidently estimate cumulative soil sequestration gains.
Herbicide-tolerant biotech soybeans have also facilitated the adoption of no-till production systems, which shorten the production cycle.
This advantage enables many farmers in South America to plant a crop of soybeans immediately after a wheat crop in the same growing season.
This second crop, additional to traditional soybean production, added 67.5 million metric tonnes to soybean production in Argentina and Paraguay between 1996 and 2007.
Impact of biotech crops on carbon emissions, 2007
* Carbon dioxide (CO2) savings from reduced fuel use (billion kg CO2): 1.14
* Additional soil carbon sequestration savings (billion kg CO2): 13.10
* Total CO2 savings (billion kg CO2): 14.24
* Car equivalents removed from road (million): 6.3
Source: PG Economics.
* For more information about the PG Economics research summaries, visit www.pgeconomics.co .uk
Here’s the point
FARMERS rely on a sustainable environment to continue farming. Biotechnology is an important tool that has helped agriculture make great strides in improving its environmental footprint.
Pesticide use on four crops in the countries where biotech crops have been planted has fallen 359 million kilograms (down 8.8 per cent), resulting in a larger 17.2pc reduction in the associated environmental impact, according to PG Economics.
Biotech crops also facilitated greenhouse gas emission reductions of 14.2 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide in 2007 – the equivalent of removing 6.3 million cars from the road for a year.
Those emission reductions are derived from reduced fuel use due to less-frequent herbicide and insecticide applications and a reduction in the energy used in soil cultivation.
In addition, no-till and reduced-till production systems facilitated by herbicide-tolerant biotechnology result in less need for plowing and increased carbon storage in the soil.
This additional carbon storage reduces carbon dioxide emissions to the environment.
Farmers recognise that improving the environment also helps their bottom line.
A new tool, Field to Market’s Fieldprint Calculator, lets farmers input information about their production practices so they can then view their environmental footprint and even see how changes in farming methods can improve sustainability.
* More information about the ways today’s farmers improve their sustainability is available at www.feedstuffsfood link.com