Imagine a tall and messy cornfield in your mind, and now you want to shrink it, but at the same time maintain the rate of return. This is just a glimpse of what farmland might look like in the future-it is more adaptable to climate change and extreme weather, but still has to provide the main crops the world needs.
Crop protection is usually related to protecting plants from insects and diseases, which may threaten the viability of crops. However, in addition to the continued pressure from insects and diseases, today's crop protection also increasingly means protecting them from the threat of climate change.
The impact of climate change is real and urgent for farmers all over the world. For example, according to data from the United States from 1991 to 2017, crop loss insurance claims related to droughts, floods, and extreme winds and storms are as high as 27 billion U.S. dollars; from 2000 to 2009 in West Africa, only sorghum and miscellaneous grains The average production loss amounts to 6 billion U.S. dollars.
Innovations in plant science not only continue to help farmers improve crop productivity now, but are also important in the future. They will help reduce the impact of climate change on crops and at the same time enhance the ability to withstand the worst effects of climate change.
As agriculture strives to stay ahead of more frequent extreme weather events, the need to provide farmers with innovative technologies will only grow.
According to Bayer's Richard Lawrence, who is responsible for gene editing, yield, disease and crop quality research, crop scientists at Bayer and other companies are using "RNA interference technology (RNAi)" to inhibit the expression of certain genes in organisms, including crops. This is a natural technological process, but it may be a vital technology to ensure that farmers adapt to a changing climate in the future.
An innovative use of "RNA interference technology" is the development of "dwarf corn" with small individual plants. RNAi is used to suppress a gene, which controls the height of the plant, resulting in a corn variety that is shorter than the traditional variety.
In the agricultural industry, we are accustomed to linking higher and stronger crops with higher yields, so it seems counterintuitive to cultivate "dwarf corn", but when faced with the intergenerational challenge of climate change, "dwarf corn" is promising. It provides a series of benefits for farmers and even the entire food system.
First, reducing plant height can improve crop stability in strong winds and reduce the impact of root lodging on yield. Root lodging refers to pulling the roots of plants out of the ground, and strong winds can also break plants from the stems. The dwarf plant size can make corn less susceptible to extreme weather events, such as extreme storms that cause great damage when approaching harvesting. On August 10, 2020, a 14-hour Drake storm straddled parts of the U.S. corn belt, causing a total loss of 11 billion U.S. dollars. It proved to be the most costly thunderstorm in U.S. history. In China, storms are also one of the most serious disasters affecting agriculture, causing approximately US$27 billion in losses each year.
The "dwarf corn" developed by Bayer is being cultivated through sophisticated breeding methods, tailored to the region where the grower is located. This means that crop science can bring innovation to global farmers as much as possible, help them better adapt to the impact of local climate change, and protect the productivity, crops and livelihoods of local agriculture in the increasingly severe global challenges. Innovations like "dwarf corn" can make agriculture better, and the breeding trend to make crops smaller doesn't just happen to corn. It is reported that Canadian breeders are also cultivating "dwarf broad bean" strains suitable for local cultivation.
The impact of climate change is increasing, which may mean that more frequent extreme weather events, whether it is temperature changes, unpredictable rainfall and drought, or other volatile climate changes, will increase the risks for farmers and global food production. Therefore, agriculture needs action, and must act quickly, from a contributor of greenhouse gases to part of the overall solution; and innovation in crop elasticity will play an important role in achieving this goal.
Although corn may become shorter and smaller, innovations such as RNAi and precision breeding will help ensure that our agriculture has a more sustainable and resilient future.