The global demand for wheat is expected to double over the next forty years – and Canada can play an important role in meeting that demand. In addition to its growing prominence on the world stage, what makes wheat truly exciting is its significant potential for technology transformation – and Canadian agriculture has the opportunity to drive that change.
Relative to other crops, wheat technology is in its infancy. This creates an opportunity to transform wheat production worldwide by developing innovative technology platforms that reach for new standards in yield, quality and sustainability.
The first Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s is credited with saving the world from mass starvation. Between 1950 and 1992, world grain output rose more than 150 percent. But renowned plant breeder Norman Borlaug, who led that revolution, said, “If our new varieties had been subjected to the kinds of regulatory strictures and requirements that are being inflicted upon the new biotechnology, they never would have become available.”
In other words, the potential of the Green Revolution and the nearly one billion lives it saved would have been severely limited due to public policy. Today, I think we need to be concerned not only about the next three billion people starving but also about the impact on the planet of feeding them, because it will exact a very heavy toll if we don’t do it the right way.
Keys to Sustainable Cereal Production
Sustainable cereal production requires that we focus on four areas: Land Use, Water, Biodiversity and Access to Technology.
• Resourceful land use is a must for sustainable food production. Technology alone is not enough. We must actively work to make the most of limited arable land, which requires that knowledge be gathered and shared in partnership with governments and all stakeholders. As an industry, it is critical that we provide educational opportunities and create a dialogue among growers, agronomists and other industry stakeholders about good stewardship and the importance of sustainable agronomic practices.
• This goes hand-in-hand with efficient water use. Water is the single most limiting factor in the world’s ability to feed a growing population. To meet future demand, it is a simple fact that water will have to be used much more efficiently. We must promote water-efficient farming practices and water conservation. We must develop technology that will help growers produce crops in dry conditions, such as drought- tolerant cereals that require significantly less water for a healthy plant.
• Biodiversity is at the heart of agriculture and biodiversity protection is an integral component of farm management. Making the most of limited acreage and growing more from less will help us to conserve species populations and wildlife habitats. Biodiversity protection and preserving the gene pool are critical to future innovation.
• Together with knowledge and best farming practices, access to agricultural technology is absolutely essential to increase farming productivity. It is only through the application of technology and sharing of knowledge that we will satisfy the world’s growing food requirements. Some examples of innovative genetic technology at work in cereals today include marker-assisted breeding, allowing for faster trait selection and introgression (the introduction of genes from one species into the gene pool of another), and double haploid technology, which allows breeders to select winners earlier. New tools in the hands of cereal breeders will mean significant improvements in crop yields and quality for Canadian growers.
Public-Private Partnerships Key
As we seek to transform wheat production here in Canada and around the world, we should not underestimate the importance of public-private partnerships in research and development. At Syngenta, for example, we are very excited about our collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). Partnerships such as these can greatly benefit the world’s farmers, rich and poor.
Syngenta and CIMMYT are focusing on the development and advancement of wheat technology in the areas of native and GM traits, hybrid wheat and the combination of seeds and crop protection to accelerate plant yield performance. Public-private collaboration in research and development is essential for advancing agriculture to meet global challenges such as food security, climate change, natural resource depletion, and access to technology.
Wheat is the most internationally traded food crop and the single largest food import in developing countries. But wheat production is not keeping pace with the global demand for food. Research and development will help to drive the next Green Revolution – and close the gap between supply and demand. A focus on Land Use, Water, Biodiversity and Access to Technology will ensure its sustainability.