LAHORE: There is a dire need for increasing the agricultural yield to feed an increasing global population, food security experts emphasised on Saturday, highlighting biotechnology and its sub-fields as the key to increasing the productivity per acre.
According to the report, Nebraska corn growers planted 9.8 million acres, down 1 percent from last year. Biotechnology varieties were used on 96 percent of the area planted, up 1 percentage point from a year ago. Growers expect to harvest 9.5 million acres for grain, which is down 1 percent from last year.
Statewide, soybean planted area is estimated at 5.7 million acres, up 10 percent from last year’s total and a record high. Of the acres planted, 94 percent were planted with genetically modified, herbicide resistant seed, down 2 percentage points from a year ago. Acres expected to be harvested are 5.65 million, up 10 percent from a year earlier.
Nationwide, the USDA reported that corn planted area for all purposes in 2017 is estimated at 90.9 million acres, down 3 percent from last year. Compared with last year, planted acres are down or unchanged in 38 of the 48 estimating states. Area harvested for grain, at 83.5 million acres, is down 4 percent from last year.
Soybean planted area for 2017, nationwide, is estimated at a record high 89.5 million acres, up 7 percent from last year. Compared with last year, planted acreage intentions are up or unchanged in 24 of the 31 estimating states.
The USDA reported that winter wheat seeded in the fall of 2016 totaled 1.11 million acres, down 19 percent from last year and a record low. Harvested acreage is forecast at 1 million acres, down 24 percent from a year ago.
Along with declining wheat acres, Nebraska wheat farmers are also having to deal with a wheat virus outbreak that has reached epidemic levels and has been damaging fields and yields in the southern Nebraska Panhandle, according to the Associated Press. The Nebraska Wheat Association earlier this month reported that as many as 85 percent of southern Panhandle fields have been affected by the virus.
Nationwide, all wheat planted area for 2017 is estimated at 45.7 million acres, down 9 percent from 2016. This represents the lowest all wheat planted area on record since records began in 1919. The 2017 winter wheat planted area, at 32.8 million acres, is down 9 percent from last year. Of this total, about 23.8 million acres are hard red winter.
For other Nebraska crops, the USDA reported that:
— Alfalfa hay acreage to be cut for dry hay is at 770 thousand acres, up 3 percent from 2016. Other hay acreage to be cut for dry hay is 1.70 million acres, unchanged from last year.
— Sorghum acreage planted and to be planted, at 140 thousand acres, is down 30 percent from a year ago. The area to be harvested for grain, at 110 thousand acres, is down 37 percent from last year.
— Oats planted area is estimated at 115 thousand acres, down 15 percent from the previous year. Area to be harvested for grain, at 25 thousand acres, is unchanged from a year ago.
— Dry edible bean planted acreage is estimated at 150 thousand acres, up 9 percent from last year. Harvested acres are estimated at 139 thousand acres, up 14 percent from the previous year.
— Proso millet plantings of 130 thousand acres are up 37 percent from a year ago.
— Sugarbeet planted acres, at 49.7 thousand, are up 4 percent from last year.
— Oil sunflower acres planted are estimated at 55 thousand, up 90 percent from last year. Non-oil sunflower planted acreage is estimated at 6 thousand acres, down 52 percent from a year ago and a record low.
— Dry edible pea estimated planted acres are 45 thousand acres, down 18 percent from last year. Harvested acres are estimated at 42 thousand, down 19 percent from the previous year.
-Written by Robert Pore in The Grand Island Independent. See original article link here.
The demand for more soybeans increased in China over the past decade because of the rise in meat consumption in the country. Thus, more supply of soybean is needed to be used as animal feed.
Chinese officials will strive to speed up the assessment of the new varieties of GM crops from the U.S. which is part of a “100-day plan” to open up trade. Last year, China approved only one variety of GM crop for import. The agriculture ministry also renewed the approvals for import of 14 other GM crops including corn, sugar beet, and rapeseed, which will be valid for three years.
-Published in ISAAA’s Crop Biotech Update. See original article link here.
China is the world’s largest importer of genetically engineered (GE) crops and one of the largest producers of GE cotton in the world, but it has not yet approved any major GE food crops for cultivation. As a part of its rule revision plan, in 2016, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) released the “Revised Administrative Measures for Safety Assessment of Agricultural Genetically Modified Organisms” (MOA Decree 7 ). The “13th Five-Year Plan for Science and Technology Innovation” aims to push forward the commercialization of a new domestic type of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, Bt cotton, and herbicide-resistant soybeans by 2020. At the same time, delays in import approvals continue to worsen, causing unpredictability for traders and delaying the adoption of needed new varieties in exporting countries such as the United States.
Published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service as part of its Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) Report. View article link here.
The latest food safety scandal in China might be its most damaging. Earlier this week, a former doctoral student at one of the country’s national testing centers for genetically modified organisms went public with allegations of scientific fraud, including claims that records were doctored extensively, that unqualified personnel were employed under illegal contracts and — most seriously — that authorities refused to take action when his concerns were aired privately.
On Wednesday, China’s Ministry of Agriculture responded to a social media storm by suspending operations at the center.
That might take care of the current scandal, but the Chinese public’s hostility toward GMOs won’t go away so easily. Those concerns have only grown over the past decade as the government has increased its support of GMOs, including approval of the state-owned ChinaChem Group’s $43 billion takeover offer for the Swiss seed giant Syngenta.
These efforts have galvanized a very public opposition that transcends China’s typical political fault lines, and created one of the government’s most intractable headaches.
Feeding China’s huge population has never been easy. But over the last three decades, the challenges have become considerably greater as urbanization devoured farmland, and pollution made even more of it unusable. Today, the government is faced with the task of feeding 21 percent of the world’s population with 9 percent of its arable land. Its reliance on foreign goods has made China the world leader in imports since 2011. Officials now fear the country could become dependent on foreigners for its food supply and the government remains committed to maintaining self-sufficiency in rice, wheat, and other key grains. As a result, the political pressure to increase yields is considerable.
In fact, this pressure is centuries-old. Domesticated rice first appeared in the Yangtze River Valley at least 8,000 years ago, and Chinese farmers and scientists have been innovating ever since. In 1992, China became the first country to introduce a GMO crop into commercial production, when it sowed a virus-resistant tobacco plant on 100 acres. Since then, the government has issued safety certificates for a wide range of GMO crops, ranging from chili peppers to petunias. Yet, so far at least, only cotton has gone into wide cultivation. Other GMOs — especially rice, a staple of the Chinese diet — are still awaiting approval to be domestically cultivated.
Safety concerns have long been the favored excuse for the lack of approvals. But that’s not credible when the scientific consensus within and outside of China is that GMOs are safe, and the Chinese government itself has long allowed importation of GMO soybeans and corn for use in animal feed and cooking oil. Instead, the government is clearly worried about widespread public opposition to GMOs, which is showing up on social media and among the urban middle class.
The first source of that opposition is a widespread belief that GMOs are a foreign conspiracy against Chinese health. This isn’t merely a fringe idea on social media. In 2013, a major general in the People’s Liberation Army wrote an op-ed for China’s hyper-nationalist Global Times newspaper that compared GMOs to biological weapons.
“The consequences will be far worse than what the Opium Wars wrought,” he wrote. “Shall China develop a biological weapons program?”
As nationalism has become amplified under President Xi Jinping, that sentiment has become more prevalent. In 2014, Guangzhou military officials requested a ban on GMO food for their troops (the request was later censored).
But the far more damaging source of anti-GMO sentiment is the broadly held certainty that the government is incapable of ensuring a safe food supply — GMO, or otherwise. It’s a legitimate concern. For three decades, China has suffered through a string of food safety scandals, including dead pigs floating in the Yangtze River and rats masquerading as hotpot mutton.
In response, China has enacted new food safety laws, but they appear to have made little difference. Two weeks ago, for example, police seized 1,000 tons of substandard frozen meat, much of which was soaked in bleach. Meanwhile, a few weeks earlier a farmer in far western China found himself the target of a national social media storm when local authorities revealed he’d been raising GMO corn on his land (the farmer claimed he’d been duped by a company that had hired him to cultivate its crop).
Yet these failures and suspicions haven’t dented official confidence in China’s GMO program. Xi recently encouraged further GMO research, the government’s current five-year economic plan calls for the commercialization of domestically-grown GMO corn and soybeans, and Syngenta is expected to catalyze a new era of Chinese domination in the field.
Nonetheless, until the Chinese government addresses the lack of confidence in its food safety programs, in particular, it’s likely to face considerable and growing opposition to a GMO program that has a very small constituency outside of elite circles. That’s not just a commercial problem, either. Like China’s notorious air pollution woes, widespread public frustration has the potential to mutate into widespread political opposition. As the Chinese government seeks to solve the country’s food problems on its own terms, that’s a particularly unappetizing development.
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-Written by Adam Minter in Bloomberg. See article link here.
China has a fifth of the world’s population, but only about 7 percent of its arable land. Farming plus safe and healthy foods are national obsessions. So it came as no surprise that government-owned ChemChina is poised to snap up Swiss-based Syngenta, one the world’s largest seed and pesticide companies. It’s a bet on the future by the country’s ruling elite.
The biggest challenge is overcoming widespread public skepticism. Resistance from groups like Greenpeace and the ultra-Maoist group Utopia that regularly vilify biotechnology research has had a great impact. In one recent survey, 84 percent of respondents opposed GMOs.
Despite this public wariness, agriculture and biotechnology topped the Communist Party’s wish list in its Central Document for the 14th straight year. The government has signaled it will actively encourage their development in order to boost food production.
The agriculture blueprint published in August recommended “pushing forward the commercialization of new pest resistant cotton, pest resistant corn and herbicide resistant soy beans.” The government has also designated biotechnology as a “strategic emerging industry” and has funded a large research program for GE crops.
The government also appears to be putting money where its directives are. According to to Wired, Caixia Gao, a plant geneticist at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, has used money from the Chinese Ministry of Science to engineer rice for herbicide resistance and corn for drought resistance. “We want to put our product on the market as soon as possible,” she says.
At present only two GE crops have been approved for cultivation: a virus resistant papaya authorized in 2006 and insecticide resistant cotton, which is engineered to include a natural bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that naturally repels insects, approved in 1996. The use of the Bt bacterium dramatically reducing the need for pesticide use. Two GM rice crops have received Ministry of Agriculture safety certificates but the government has not approved them for commercialization. China also plants millions of Bt GM poplar trees that have been shown to have no harmful impact on the environment.
Bt cotton is the major GE crop grown. As of 2015 it accounted for 96 percent of the country’s total cotton acreage. China is the second largest producer of cotton in the world behind India, which is also a major grower of Bt cotton. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), incomes of cotton farmers have increased “by approximately $220 per hectare due, on average, to a 10 percent increase in yield and a 60 percent reduction in insecticides” as a result of the use of Bt cotton.
In an attempt to stir public opposition to GE crops, Greenpeace alleged last January that farmers in northeast China were growing GM corn. It claimed 93 percent of samples taken in 2015 from corn fields in five counties in Liaoning province, which is one of the major grain growing regions of the country, tested positive for GMOs. If the allegations proved true, the crops were not sanctioned by the government and were instead the result of GMO plants tested in field trials being sold illegally to farmers. There have also been allegations of the illegal growing of GM rice in Hubei province.
A series of food scandals have contributed to the erosion of public trust in the food supply system. In 2008 milk and infant formula products were found adulterated with melamine. As a result, 54,000 babies were hospitalized and six died after developing kidney stones.
Other food scandals include: watermelons exploding after excessive use of growth hormones, borax in beef, bleach found in mushrooms, the sale of cooking oil recovered from drains and soy sauce made from arsenic.
These scandals have made the public leery of government food safety, increasing public suspicion about government-backed GMOs. A 2014 poll indicated that less than 1 percent of those surveyed accepted that GE foods were safe. Worries about the safety of GM crops have been exacerbated by unfounded rumors, often spread by Greenpeace and other NGOs, that they might cause infertility, cancer and other health problems.
“Many people in China still have limited knowledge about biotechnology, and rumors and misinformation is widespread,” noted a report on the food security challenges in China by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “A common and persistent misperception is that consumers in biotechnology producing countries, such as the United States, do not themselves consume genetically modified food. The emerging media, such as the MicroBlog, WeChat, and on-line forums, are often used by opponents of agricultural biotechnology.”
Although the government has been hesitant about sanctioning the growing of GM crops, it has approved their large scale importation. China is the world’s largest importer of GMO soybeans, which along with imported GE corn is used as animal feed. In addition, it also imports soybeans to produce soybean oil, rapeseed oil made from GE rapeseed and sugar derived from GE sugar beets.
In 2013, President Xi Jinping signaled to the public a more accepting stance towards GMOs when he said China must “occupy the commanding heights of transgenic technology” and not yield that ground to “big foreign firms.”
In an attempt to cut down on its reliance on foreign biotechnology, the government has actively funded a major GM research program, disbursing at least $3 billion to research institutes and domestic companies to develop home-grown disease and drought resistant wheat, disease resistant rice, drought resistant corn and soybeans that produce more oil. In addition, there have been field trials and research conducted on GM peanuts.
“Agricultural biotechnology is one of the few technologies in which China is on an equal footing with the world’s best,” said Yan Jianbing, a corn genomics researcher at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan. Yan works at the University’s laboratory of crop genetic improvement, which is a government designated GMO research facility.
A senior agriculture ministry official, Liao Xijuan, recently said the government plans to focus on new types of insect-resistant cotton and corn. There is a particular focus on developing China-engineered products and not depending on imported patented technology.
“We cannot lag behind others in GMO research,” said Han Jun, the deputy of the Central Office for Agricultural Work. “Our GMO market should not be saturated by foreign brands.”
To hasten that reality, the government backed the $43 billion ChemChina takeover of Syngenta.
In addition to investing in GM crops, China is also spending heavily on gene editing as a means of modifying plants and animals. Chinese scientists claim they are among the first to use CRISPR technology to make wheat resistant to a common fungal disease, disease resistant tomatoes and to make pigs that have leaner meat. Paul Knoepfler, an associate professor of cell biology and human anatomy at UC Davis School of Medicine, said he “would rank the U.S. and China first and second” in CRISPR-Cas9 technology.
Given the Chinese public’s distrust of GMOs, cultivation will likely proceed at a gradual and cautious pace. The government is likely to embark upon a major education campaign to reassure the public that GE foods are safe to consume before any major commercialization begins.
As part of its reassurance campaign for GM crops, the Agriculture Ministry indicated this summer that it will support new food labeling laws “based on a certain threshold” of GE content “at a suitable time.”
The government clearly recognizes the need to increase farm productivity at a time when arable land is increasingly disappearing as a result of spreading urbanization, curb the damage done to crops by pests and deal with the threat of climate change—all factors which will necessitate the application of GE technology to grow drought and flood resistant crops.
If China does utilize transgenic and gene editing technology to produce food on a large scale it could encourage other Asian nations to also grow GE crops given that China is the region’s largest trading partner and a major source of foreign assistance and investment.
Steven E. Cerier is a freelance international economist.
-Written by Steven E. Cerier in Genetic Literacy Project. See article link here.