Climate change has certainly been at the forefront of the current federal government’s agenda and is a topic that makes headlines internationally. But no one has felt and will continue to feel the impacts of climate change more than the farmers who are tasked with producing food for a growing world population in the face of changing climatic conditions.
Fortunately, Canadian farmers have embraced plant science technologies like pesticides and biotech crops to grow more food on less land in more sustainable ways than ever before. According to a study conducted by RIAS Inc., productivity gains on existing land saves 35 million acres of forest, native grass and wetlands from being used for agriculture in Canada.
Herbicide-tolerant crops and pesticides are also part of the great success story that is conservation tillage. Before these technologies existed to help farmers better control weeds, farmers had to till the soil to remove weeds. This practice is hard on the soil as it breaks down organic matter and reduces the soil’s ability to retain moisture.
According to the same study, these plant science technologies limit equipment passes, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 29 million tonnes a year in Canada. And fewer passes over fields with equipment reduces diesel fuel use by up to 194 million litres a year.
Use of crops enhanced by plant biotechnology have and will continue to be an important tool in the fight against climate change. However, the current regulatory system is failing to deliver much needed additional innovations to farmers in a timely manner. In spite of annual growth in biotech crop adoption, the number of new crop varieties coming to market is well below predictions. And it’s no coincidence that the cost and time involved in regulatory science and registration has increased by 50 per cent over the last decade.
We have seen some new consumer-oriented traits approved in Canada such the non-browning Arctic Apple and bruise-resistant Innate potatoes, which is exciting — but they are just the beginning. There are new traits in the pipeline that will provide improved oil profiles, as well as disease, insect and weed control. Others are designed to improve drought tolerance, saline tolerance and nitrogen-use efficiency. These all stand to help Canadian farmers adapt and thrive in the face of changing climate conditions.
Globally, other traits such as improved nutritional profiles in certain crops will be essential in parts of the developing world where the impacts of climate change will be particularly harsh. We must ensure that we as an industry can deliver the innovations farmers need to succeed as climate change poses new challenges.