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Key developments in science and technology in agriculture.

 

Farm machinery exacting heavy toll on soil - study

BBC News

17 May 2022

The weight of modern combine harvesters, tractors and other farm machinery risks compacting the soil, leading to flooding and poor harvests, according to researchers in Sweden.

The researchers calculated that combine harvesters, when fully loaded, have ballooned in size from about 4,000kg in 1958 to around 36,000kg in 2020. The researchers think the growing weight of farm machinery poses a threat to agricultural productivity.

Their analysis, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests combine harvesters could be damaging up to a fifth of the global land used to grow crops. Thomas Keller, professor of soil management at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden, says machinery should be designed not to exceed a certain load.

UN urges G7 nations to help combat food shortages

Farming UK

16 May 2022

The world's largest economies have been called on to help combat food shortages as the Ukraine war squeezes supplies and pushes prices to record highs.

The head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the G7 nations, which includes the UK, must identify ways to make up for food gaps in global markets.

Russia and Ukraine are important players in global commodity markets, and the uncertainty surrounding the war has caused prices surges, particularly of wheat, maize and oilseeds, as well as fertilisers.

Scientists find way to make better wheat

AAP

12 May 2022

An Australian led team of international researchers has discovered a gene in wheat that helps produce higher quality crops. The scientists say the discovery could lead to increasing protein in wheat by up to 25 per cent with the potential to help improve its nutritional and economic value.

The researchers from the University of Adelaide and the UK’s John Innes Centre have identified the genetic driver that improves the yield traits of wheat. Lead researcher Scott Boden from the University of Adelaide said the significant discovery follows revolutionary progress in wheat science over the past decade.

The scientists say it is the first known example where a forward-genetics screen of a mutant population has been used to identify a gene that controls reproductive development in wheat. “If you identify genes that control flower development and you modify them so that more flowers are produced, then you can increase the productivity or yield of the plant,” he told AAP. He said the research was partly driven by the need to increase food security for the increasing human population.

Scottish farm leaders renew plea for access to gene editing

Press and Journal

12 May 2022

Scottish farm leaders have renewed their plea for access to new technologies such as gene editing. It comes following confirmation in the Queen’s Speech that the UK Government will introduce new legislation – the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – to unlock the potential of new farming technologies such as gene editing (GE).

The Scottish Government has long said it wants to maintain a GM-free crop status, however farming union NFU Scotland (NFUS) says farmers and crofters need access to GE technology to become more sustainable.

“New technologies, including the likes of gene editing can help positively address some of the big challenges Scottish agriculture faces, including how we respond to the climate emergency and address biodiversity loss,” said NFUS president Martin Kennedy.

Science and farming welcome for Queen's speech

The Scotsman

11 May 2022

Science agencies and farming organisations welcomed the announcement of measures to provide a more straightforward route to market for seeds and crops using advanced breeding technologies such as gene editing in the Queen’s Speech.

The announcement revealed that the UK Government would bring forward new primary legislation, ‘The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill’, to take certain precision breeding techniques out of the scope of restrictive GMO rules - where the resulting plants could have occurred naturally or through conventional breeding methods.

Following the recent introduction of rule changes to free up experimental field trials of gene edited crops, the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) said the announcement marked a further important step towards more science-based and proportionate regulation of technologies such as gene editing, giving a boost to prospects for UK plant science and the development of more sustainable farming systems.

Queen’s Speech: Gene editing of animals and plants to get green light

The Independent

10 May 2022

Boris Johnson’s government will push ahead with legislation to allow the gene editing of animals and crops in a bid to improve Britain’s agricultural productivity.

Gene editing is considered to pose less risk that genetic modification (GM) since it does not involve the introduction DNA from another species. But the practice is still controversial, with campaigners warning about potential safety implications from a “high-tech free-for-all”.

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill outlined in the Queen’s Speech is aimed at promoting “efficient” farming and food production – stripping out rules inherited from the EU after Brexit.

Gene editing of animals and plants to get go-ahead

The Times

7 May 2022

Gene editing of animals and crops will be approved under legislation intended to improve productivity, make food more nutritious and reduce reliance on pesticides and antibiotics.

Unlike genetic modification (GM), gene editing does not involve introducing DNA from another species and is considered by many scientists to pose less risk.

However, the technology has been hampered by a 2018 ruling from the European Court of Justice that it must be regulated in the same way as GM. The Precision Breeding Bill will introduce an exemption to the regulatory definition of genetically modified organisms to exclude genetic changes “that could have been achieved through traditional breeding or which could occur naturally”.

Australia, New Zealand approve sale and use of Argentine GMO wheat

Reuters

6 May 2022

Australia and New Zealand have approved the sale and use of foods that contain so-called HB4 wheat, a genetically modified (GMO) variety developed by Argentine firm Bioceres to withstand droughts and herbicides, the firm said on Friday.

Argentina, one of the world's largest wheat exporters, was the first country to approve GMO wheat in 2020, followed by Brazil in 2021, a trend that could continue if global supply is further constrained by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Scientists switch on ‘sleeping gene’ that makes food more nutritious

The Telegraph

3 May 2022

A dormant gene in a plant has been switched back on for the first time without creating a genetically modified organism in a breakthrough that could revolutionise farming.

Scientists at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire used the genetic snipping system Crispr to relocate a piece of code in the Arabidopsis species so that it switched on a sleeping gene which produces vegetable oil in the leaves. Oil content was shown to be increased by around 30-fold.

New GCSE must teach about farming, say industry leaders

Farmers Guardian

2 May 2022

Agricultural groups have appealed to ministers to put food and farming at the forefront of the new Natural History GSCE which was unveiled recently.

The NFU and Country Land and Business Association (CLA) have both issued calls to education minister Nadim Zahawi to ensure that an understanding of the rural economy and how food is produced is included on the curriculum.

NFU chief education manager Joshua Payne said: “We passionately believe that learning about farming and food production should form a key part of teaching sustainability within the GCSE curriculum. It is incredibly important for children to understand the importance of farming to rural communities, its role in feeding the nation and to showcase careers in agriculture.”