Ag must adjust as population grows and world warms

Feb 12, 2010

With the world facing serious challenges - like global warming, diminishing fresh water supplies and population growth - there is a critical need for people to get beyond biases against the use of agricultural biotechnology, according to a group of prestigious scientists that includes UC Davis plant pathologist Pamela Ronald.

This admonition was part of a perspective piece published in the Feb. 12 issue of the journal Science. The authors also said there is an increasing need for development of farming systems that use saline water and integrate nutrient flows.

In the Science article, the researchers noted that crop reductions related to global climate change are already apparent. For example, a 2003 heat wave in Europe, which caused a 3.5-degree rise in the average summer temperature, killed 30,000 to 50,000 people and resulted in a 20 to 36 percent decrease in the yields of grains and fruit that summer.

"That dramatic drop in yield is just a foreshadowing of the challenges that lie ahead for agriculture during the 21st century, as temperatures rise and another 3 billion people are added to the global population," Ronald was quoted in a UC Davis news release about the journal article.

Ronald believes global warming will change the pattern of plant diseases and cause intense, periodic flooding.

"The good news is that we have the ability, through conventional breeding and genetic engineering, to generate new varieties of our existing food crops that can better adapt to these environmental changes," Ronald was quoted.

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By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist