Food safety: between chemistry, biologics and gene editing
Nov. 19, 2020
The pandemic has exposed numerous shortcomings and priorities, including global food security. The sustainability that catches both politicians and leaders around the globe, is a concept approached by the agricultural sector in a few decades. And it is gaining momentum as it becomes clear that, to ensure the nourishment of a growing world, we must strive for a balance between chemistry and biological products, for example, or between biotechnology and traditional crop improvement.
“We need to keep producing more, we have a growing world population that will need more and more food. And we need to minimize the impact of resource use so that we can have a healthy planet to live on. And these two situations can happen through more innovations in technology for agriculture,” explained Bob Reiter, the head of Investigation and Development of the division Crop Science of Bayer to PROFILE.
From his office in Monheim, Germany, and in dialogue with PROFILE, Reiter indicated that the carbon initiatives carried out by the multinational are highly innovative and are redefining the value of agriculture. The program is a pilot project in neighboring Brazil, and even this year, during the Direct Sowing Congress it was announced that in 2021 the project will be applied in the country.
The initiative seeks to compensate producers for generating carbon credits through the adoption of climate-smart practices, such as Direct Sowing (widely spread in the country), which reduces the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
"The initiative fosters a zero-carbon future for agriculture, supporting Bayer's sustainability commitments, specifically aimed at reducing GHG emissions in the field by 30 percent by 2030," Reiter added.
Providing value to sustainability
The moment when producers are paid to carry out sustainability actions is just around the corner, which allows us to predict that in the short-term, producers will adopt these practices not only because they are good for sustainability, but also because they will help increase productivity.
In addition to the carbon project, the German multi-company that it bought from Monsanto in 2018, sought to emphasize other projects such as 'short corn'. It is the VITALA hybrid, revolutionary short-statured maize developed for cultivation originally in Mexico, to help farmers produce more, using fewer resources. "It is expected to arrive in Argentina in the next 5 to 10 years," according to Reiter.
This "corn" is famous because it is a crop designed and developed to face climate change. “The benefit we see for sustainability is that it has a strong root system and is more efficient in situations where there is water scarcity. There is ample evidence to believe that the crop has more conditions to stand still and the farmer can thus have a better and more satisfactory harvest because the wind or weather conditions cannot destabilize it," he added.
Another highlight of the new agriculture process, according to Reiter is data agriculture, which is still in its initial stages. "In the short term we will be able to help farmers to use their seeds more efficiently with the Seed Advisor that we are already testing in pilot projects with a lot of information from North American farmers," he explained.
"This type of program could be implemented in Argentina in the next two or three years," he said.
For now, the firm is moving forward with the use of FieldView, its digital data platform that helps farmers to make decisions. It has reached a coverage of 2.3 million hectares in Argentina (almost 7% of the national agricultural area) a year after its launch. The adoption of the tool is growing exponentially in the world because it is already used to make decisions on 37 million hectares.
Climate FieldView digital platform launched in Argentina
Regarding the pandemic and how the sector had approached these complicated months, Reiter indicated, "The impact has shown that the sector is very resilient since we were able to continue with food production despite the situation."
At the same time, he exposed the vulnerability of the entire chain, especially in areas that are very labor-intensive with some scarcity reported in harvesting tasks. "That underscores the need for more automation in this area of crop harvesting," he explained.
He also pointed to international regulations that are activated in times of a panic, when countries quickly tend to shut down with protectionist measures. "The importance of free trade has become clear in the pandemic, to ensure food security," he added.
Regarding the debate on sustainability and how agriculture adapts to the challenges, Reiter analyzed the dynamics between chemicals, biologics and biotechnology. "The three areas will continue to be very important to provide solutions to farmers. It is about optimizing the use of the three groups," he explained adding, "There is great pressure on the use of chemicals, so we will have to continue finding solutions for it but, of course, the chemicals will continue to be used to guarantee the success of the crops and to make sure that we can feed the population with the smallest possible carbon footprint through agriculture," he said.
"The different solutions go through the combination of chemical products, also with biological ones and with genetic editing that will allow us to find plants that are more and more optimized for each situation," he said.
Regarding what the company is looking for in the future, the head of the R&D area in the Crop Science area indicated that they are focusing on products that offer new opportunities in insect and disease control "We have several crop protection products that are being developed as new solutions for weed control and different commercial packages that we are going to launch for insect control and also for corn rootworm control. We will be launching a fourth generation product shortly, as well as preparing a fourth and fifth generation tolerant herbicide for soybeans."
They are also working to add updates to all their products and will have new cultivars in the genetic field, Reiter added. "We are developing new varieties of soybeans, cotton and wheat."
In conclusion, Reiter stated that one of the biggest challenges and where the company feels strong is in the field of digital solutions. "We have tailor-made solutions to increase the yield of farmers to harvest and then we have biological solutions that we are developing to add diverse tools for farmers around the world."
The original Spanish version of this piece is from PERFIL.
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