Imagine a global temperature rise of 2 to 3 degrees Celsius over the next fifty years. While this may not sound like much, it has the potential for serious impacts – severe drops in crop yields could leave hundreds of millions without food, and up 40 percent of species could face extinction.
Climate change is already adding pressure to agricultural production. In their effort to meet global food needs, farmers are challenged with drought, flooding and excessive temperatures. But sustainable and efficient agricultural tools and practices can help them deal with erratic weather patterns. Plants are being created to handle the stress of drought, heat, flooding or salinity. And modern agricultural techniques are reducing carbon emissions – a key contributing factor to the greenhouse gases that are throwing the Earth’s thermostat out of balance.
Through biotechnology, crops can thrive in the harsh growing conditions influenced by climate change. For example, plant science researchers are developing drought-tolerant and water-efficient crops that can maintain and provide higher yields while saving precious water resources. They’re also creating plants that use nitrogen more efficiently, reducing the need for added fertilizer and thereby lessening greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Plus, new biotech crops are being developed to tolerate salinity, heat and provide yield stability in extremely wet climates.
Farmers are leading the way in GHG reduction with thanks in part to herbicide-tolerant biotech crops. Known as conservation (or no-till) agriculture, this system of farming allows farmers to remove yield-robbing weeds using herbicides instead of multiple tillage passes with heavy machinery. That’s a huge savings in fuel. And because farmers aren’t tilling the land as much, a significant amount of carbon stays in soil where it can’t do damage. Globally, in 2009 alone, the amount of carbon dioxide saved by herbicide-tolerant biotech crops was equal to removing 7.8 million cars from the road for one year.
By using innovative plant science technologies to increase yields on existing land, farmers are also under less pressure to convert carbon-rich forests and other natural habitats to farmland. Higher-yielding crops prevent up to 13 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. The net effect of higher yields has avoided emissions of up to 590 billion metric tons of carbon since 1961: That’s equal to removing over 260 billion cars.