AGRI-BRIEFS
  AGRONOMIC NEWS ITEMS
From Agronomists of the
Potash & Phosphate Institute
655 Engineering Drive, Suite 110
Norcross, Georgia 30092-2837
Phone (770) 447-0335

Summer 2000, No. 3

DON'T TURN YOUR BACK ON BIOTECHNOLOGY

It's hard to believe how fast our world is changing. Technological innovations are everywhere...computers, cell phones, digital this and digital that. And now we are hearing more and more about biotechnology.

Agriculture has already embraced biotechnology.
In just a few years, large acreages of bio-engineered crops have been planted in the U.S., Canada, and other countries. Herbicide resistant and/or insect protected corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, and potatoes comprise most of the acreage presently being planted. This is a good deal for farmers because their crops are protected without the use of pesticides...at least for certain pests. So they can save both time and money. Advances in biotechnology can also lead to more efficient fertilizer use. Crops not suffering from disease or insect damage are more responsive to applied nutrients. Such responses lead to greater nutrient utilization, higher yield, and lower unit cost of production. 

Biotechnology benefits more than just the farmer.
We, the consumer, benefit in several ways. Pesticide residues on food are reduced or eliminated altogether, as are concerns over pesticides entering surface and ground water supplies. Better utilized fertilizer materials also translates into less opportunity for leaching of these essential inputs into water supplies. Such efficiencies will also help keep our food prices among the lowest of any country in the world.

The potential benefits of biotechnology are enormous.
We haven't even begun to scratch the surface. For example, yield potential may be substantially increased with new bio-engineered crops. This is certainly important for a world population that recently passed 6 billion and is expected to reach 8 billion within 50 years. Perhaps crops will be developed that are adapted to saline soil, shorter growing seasons, or high elevations...areas that are relatively unproductive today...or they may be developed with larger root systems capable of extracting water more efficiently and from greater soil depths, making them suitable for arid regions where irrigation water is limited or very expensive.

An important consideration...perhaps the most important to the general public...is food quality.
Potential benefits to consumers seem virtually unlimited. Biotechnology provides the opportunity to develop crops that have very specific quality components. Bio-engineered rice, for example, has already been produced that contains a high concentration of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body...and it is estimated that over120 million children worldwide are deficient in vitamin A. Widespread distribution of this rice could prevent 1 to 2 million deaths each year.

Foods such as the rice just discussed, containing ingredients that enhance health and fitness, are called "functional foods."
The active ingredients are nutraceuticals. There are dozens of nutraceuticals known to reduce such illnesses as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Biotechnology offers the opportunity to fortify our diets in these beneficial ingredients.

So don't turn your back on biotechnology...we need it to produce an abundant quantity of healthy food for today and tomorrow.

—AEL—

For more information, contact Dr. Albert E. Ludwick, Western Director, PPI, P.O. Box 970, Bodega Bay, CA 94923. Phone: (707) 875-2163. E-mail: aludwick@ppi-far.org.
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