Growing Food and a “Thirst” for Innovation


dr-wayne-parrot-plant-breederWater is kind of a big deal. Without it, there would be no farms, no food, no anything (except rocks).The earth would basically be a more temperate version of Mars. This World Water Week, we’re taking a moment to reflect on how technology is helping us to conserve this precious resource in food production.

Agriculture is estimated to be the biggest single user of earth’s freshwater. Technologies that help farmers use less water can translate into major gains in global water conservation. The amount of water used for irrigation (growing crops) in the US has dropped significantly since 1980, largely due to improvements in technologies like plant breeding and irrigation systems. But there’s more great news. Researchers are still making major progress when it comes to technologies that reduce the amount of water needed for agriculture.

We spoke with agriculture expert Wayne Parrott, PhD, an expert in plant breeding at the University of Georgia, who gave us the inside scoop on how new technologies are helping farmers use less water.


FoodInsight: How is technology helping farmers use less water to grow their crops?

WP: The development of crops that use water more efficiently is an important part of the solution. Another important part is technology that saves water by sensing how much a water a plant needs and delivering just the right amount needed for each individual plant.


FoodInsight: How do both conventional breeding methods and agricultural biotechnology play a role in creating new crops that require less water?

WP: In the case of corn, some hybrids are examples of what conventional breeding can do to achieve a measure of drought tolerance. Other hybrids are an example of the same trait obtained with biotechnology.  In both cases, the use of other biotech traits, such as resistance to corn root worms, helps ensure that the root system remains healthy enough to use whatever water is in the soil.   Over the long-term, it will take the combination of conventional breeding and biotech breeding to increase the level of drought-tolerance in crops to a point where some yield is salvageable under extreme conditions.


As you can see, scientists have used both biotech and conventional breeding to produce crops that grow better with less water. These advancements will go a long way towards creating a food system that uses less water and is better prepared for climate change.


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