Biotechnology in wheat would reduce farmer input costs and help make the crop more competitive with corn and soybeans in areas where they can all be grown, said Scott Swenson, a wheat leader from Minnesota, at this week’s BIO International Convention.
Swenson made his comments as part of a media breakfast panel sponsored by the Council on Biotechnology Information (CBI) and held Wednesday with other convention activities at the Washington, D.C. convention center.
The panel, which focused on regulatory policy and agricultural innovation, was moderated by former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and included Robert Beachy, former head of USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and former director of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center; Jack Bobo, a senior adviser for biotechnology at the State Department; and Swenson, who provided the farmer voice on this important topic.
Swenson told attendees that in his area, acreage has shifted dramatically to corn and soybeans in recent decades because of the advantages producers can reap from the most advanced seeds, produced with biotechnology. On his farm, for example, he has gone from growing mostly wheat 30 years ago to less than 20 percent wheat now.
Swenson described in detail another dramatic change brought by biotech crops – the reduced fieldwork required to produce a crop. On his farm, he said, the use of biotechnology has dramatically reduced passes through a field – saving both fuel and existing organic matter in the soil – compared to conventional crops or organic crops he has grown in the past.
Drawing on comments made by Beachy about the complicated and sometimes dysfunctional biotech regulatory system, Swenson also told reporters and guests he is concerned that regulatory challenges will discourage young people from pursuing careers in plant breeding, exacerbating a shortage of plant scientists for decades to come.
As the current chairman of the NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates Joint Biotechnology Committee, which works on biotechnology policy for both organizations, Swenson also described the wheat industry’s work to demonstrate farmers’ desire for the technology’s use in wheat, which he said he hopes will happen during his career.
There is no commercialized biotech wheat anywhere in the world, but the wheat industry works on biotechnology issues because its leaders believe biotechnology’s introduction into the wheat crop is necessary to increase productivity, attract acres back to the crop and feed a growing global population sustainably.
The wheat industry appreciated the invitation from BIO and CBI for Swenson to be a part of this important panel, which followed an appearance at last year’s convention by then-chairman of the Joint Biotech Committee, Mark Darrington.
An archive of NAWG’s live tweets from the event is available at www.wheatworld.org/biotech under “Related Resources”. Tweets from the BIO convention can be seen by searching the hashtag, #BIO2011.
A post Swenson penned for the convention blog is also available, at http://www.biotech-now.org/food-and-agriculture/2011/06/biotech-for-now-and-for-the-future.