5 Things You Didn’t Know Agriculture Does to Benefit Society
November 12, 2020
When you hear the question “How does agriculture contribute to society?”, what do you think of? Perhaps new varieties of plants that improve nutrition and food security, or protecting at-risk populations from disease and viruses by controlling insets with crop protection products. Plant science has a very wide range of applications, from growing never-before-seen flowers to ensuring sustainable packaging and container management. Check out the following list to see how these lesser-known plant science innovations and practices are improving society.
All around us, micro-organisms are growing, living and thriving. They exist in their own ecosystems, also called “microbiomes,” where they help to contribute to plant growth and the world around us. Plant microbiomes can boost plant growth and control harmful pathogens. Now, scientists are helping to create strong ecosystems at the microbial level to ensure that plants have the best infrastructure possible for growth. Ultimately, this means higher crop yields and resilience.
This type of customized microbiome engineering will be necessary to cope with many of the obstacles our farmers face, including climate change and global food security. As more farmers breed “microbe-friendly” crops, we will see a greater catalyst for such change. As we look to the future, these types of innovations are critical as modern agriculture works to meet an ever-growing global demand for food and faces serious challenges from climate change.
Container Management Programs
Appropriate packaging is essential in ensuring that crop protection products are safely transported, delivered and stored. To safeguard this against misuse or anti-counterfeit pesticides, the plant science industry relies upon container management programs for the appropriate disposal or recycling of crop protection containers, protecting farmers and the environment. While this program may seem unimportant it is critical. Currently, there are 59 established container management programs globally. These programs see to the appropriate treatment and safe disposal of used packaging, the maximization of recycling of containers and the protection of both the environment and operators from exposure.
This innovative process has yielded incredible results across the globe. In Brazil, their program has removed more than 500,000 tons of empty containers from the environment and has recycled around 90 per cent of all containers collected. Between 2002 and 2013, the proper disposal of containers brought an environmental gain equivalent to 905,000 barrels of oil that did not need to be extracted, or 394,000 tons of C02 equivalent that was not emitted into the atmosphere.
Vector control focuses on preventative measures to control or eliminate insects and organisms that transmit pathogens, like mosquitos spreading malaria or the Zika virus. These pathogens are capable of ravaging and destroying entire fields worth of crops. Effective management of the mosquitoes spreading this virus relies on insecticides, such as spraying mosquito breeding areas and insecticide-impregnated bed nets. These measures are critical for human health as it stops the spread of deadly diseases, but also protects crops, preventing famine and starvation.
Non-browning Biotech Apples
Supermarket shelves are always filled with the highest quality produce. However, much of the world’s produce is often deemed unfit for sale for no other reason than it is the wrong shape, size or color – for example, apples not being red enough. Supermarkets occupy a large portion of the supply chain in many countries and food waste at these outlets can create a considerable impact. In the UK, where big retailers represent 85% of the market share, a reported 25% of apples, 20% of onions and 13% of potatoes are wasted for cosmetic reasons. Scientists have sought to rectify some of this food waste by developing Arctic Apples, which brown at a much slower rate after being cut, reducing the likelihood that they would be thrown away. This advancement in the development of biotech products that meet supermarket standards could dramatically cut down on food waste.
Blue Biotech Flowers
The next time you stop to smell the roses you might notice something interesting. Roses come in many shapes and colors, but you will almost never find a blue rose. This is because blue flowers are extremely rare in nature, since the color is usually the result of a mutation or quirk in acidity rather than a blue pigment. In fact, even scientists have long struggled to create the perfect color blue in flowers.
The first biotech blue flower was a blue rose created in Japan in 2004. However, since that time there have been other exciting developments in the world of blue blossoms. In 2017, another Japanese group announced the creation of a genetically engineered blue chrysanthemum, which was crafted from a bluish flower called the Canterbury bell, and the other from the blue-flowering butterfly pea.
Plant science, in both little and big ways, and well-known and lesser-known ways, contributes massively to our society every day. Whether it is engineering microbiomes, or creating colorful flowers, these innovations are helping to grow our communities. As our planet continues to face the pressures of global food security and climate change, among others, we are ever more dependent on innovations like these to continue to improve modern agriculture and meet these obstacles head-on.