Innovation to Feed the Future: A Case for Biotech Use in Wheat

Feeding the future is more than just producing enough food for a growing global population, expected to reach 9 billion people by mid-century. It’s also a conversation about sustainability, innovation, environmental stability, economics, nutrition, acceptance of agriculture, and more.

There was recently an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that looked at whether or not the industry was ready for biotechnology use in wheat production. We believe there is a case for biotech wheat, and here’s why.

Wheat is the most widely planted commodity, worldwide, as well as a staple part of the global population’s diet. However, corn and rice have surpassed wheat in production (tonnage) in the last 20 years. Since 1994, corn yields have increased approximately 67 percent in the United States alone, while spring and winter wheat yields have increased half that amount, approximately 35 percent, in the same time frame.

A 2013 joint study conducted by scientists from the University of Minnesota, CSIRO, the University of Sydney, the University of Queensland and CIMMYT emphasized the need for continued wheat research and innovation. The study concluded that research conducted to control the wheat disease known as stem rust during 1961-2009 has added 6.2 million tons annually to world wheat harvests, or enough wheat to satisfy almost the entire annual calorie deficit of sub-Saharan Africa’s undernourished population.

Additionally, a decline in wheat production has obvious concerns down the food chain. Wheat farmers are not the only ones who will feel the effects of wheat getting pushed to marginal acres to make room for other crop commodities with greater investment returns. The milling, baking and food industries, for which wheat is an important ingredient, are well aware of the long-term implications of continued reduction in wheat production.

As farmers continue to grow more on less land and with fewer resources, wheat production needs to be both efficient and profitable for it to continue to be planted by farmers around the world. Innovation in wheat is viable – and necessary – both environmentally and economically speaking.

Let’s not stall forward progress for innovation and collaboration by the public and private sectors to enhance wheat research.