A poll conducted among Prairie farmers has found widespread support for herbicide- tolerant crops, says a University of Saskatchewan researcher.
The poll also showed arguments from groups opposed to genetically engineered varieties don’t ring true with producers, Stuart Smyth, who was raised on a Saskatchewan farm, told the Grow Canada conference.
Farmers are using less pesticide than before and haven’t encountered herbicide resistance, as many environmental critics allege, Smyth said. In fact, the current herbicide use is about half of what it would be if only unmodified canola was grown.
For large farms, planting GE crops provides a benefit of $25 an acre over unmodified varieties, he said. In addition, the introduction of new tillage practices that coincided with the development of GE canola have improved soil fertility and soil moisture, and also reduced run-offs. Even insurance companies recognize the health and safety benefits of GE canola in reduced farm premiums, he said.
“GE crops are one of the best technologies for agriculture,” said Smyth.
The planting of herbicide- tolerant canola has mushroomed on the Prairies since its introduction in 1995 and now rivals wheat as the most widely grown crop. In 2009, GE canola was planted on 15 million acres across the West and it’s forecast that figure will rise 19 million to 20 million acres next year.
GE corn is widely grown in Canada because farmers say they get hardier varieties and lower production costs.
Feeding a hungry world will require increased government research, said Gale Buchanan, dean and director emeritus of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia.
“GEcropsare oneofthebest technologiesfor agriculture.”
– UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN RESEARCHER STUART SMYTH
The global population will reach nine billion by mid-century, up from the current seven billion, he said. People living in China, India and other rapidly developing countries want the same diets and comforts as North Americans.
“The need to increase agriculture output to meet the growth projections will be like what we’ve never seen before,” he said.
To meet the increased demand for food and fuels, farmers will have to make better use of their soil and water, and that will require new crop varieties, better pesticides and new farm equipment, he said.
“We’ve always done well with short-term agriculture research but not so well in working on long-term issues,” said Buchanan. “We need to spend time thinking about what agriculture will need in 50, 100 or 200 years from now.”
Farm groups in Canada have called for more publicly funded agriculture research instead of devoting all the funding to joint projects with private companies.