Exciting opportunities seen in agriculture’s crystal ball

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For our final edition of 2016, The Western Producer published 28 stories on innovation in agriculture that demonstrated just how science and technology will propel the extraordinary promise of agriculture.

How far can we go? There is a sense that we can go as far as is needed to feed an estimated population of 9.7 billion people by 2050. To that end, global demand for food will rise by 60 percent.

It is worth highlighting a few of the promising research efforts that have the potential to play major roles in changing agriculture.

At its new breeding facility near Pike Lake, Sask., Bayer is looking to generate new hybrid wheat varieties that could boost crop yields, even under unstable growing conditions, by up to 10 percent.

And perennial wheat also offers a host of possibilities. One estimate put the development about 15 years away, but if it happens, it could serve human consumption and animal forage, without reseeding the next year.

So-called manufactured meats, which use a plant-based protein to replicate the texture and taste of animal meat, could be a game-changer.

It’s not likely a danger to the demand for livestock meat in the near future. It may be a generational issue, and as developing countries grow economically, the demand for real meat will still increase.

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Still, if veggie-meat is a significant part of the future, it will affect the demand for crops, as well as possibly mitigate the environmental effects of a higher demand for meat-like products.

Nutritionally, the food industry is on the verge of a revolution. Customers using the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre in Saskatoon are incorporating pulse proteins into snacks and foods that will also boost fibre content.

Over at POS Bio-Sciences, research includes splitting proteins into different types to create new ingredients and enhance nutrition.

Out on the fields, driverless robotic tractors have captured the imagination of farmers, and they are already on the market. It’s thought that robotics will be able to help with seeding and spraying, as well as harvesting.

However, all this is dependent on how regulators react to this high-powered answer to labour shortages.

Aquaponics is showing promise. Fish provide nutrients for micro-organisms that convert the organic fish waste and toxic compounds into soluble nutrients for plants that use them for growth while purifying the water for fish production.

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If that sounds like a mouthful, it could well be. It’s thought this “closed loop” in food production could work well in northern climes, providing vegetables and fish year round, thus enhancing nutrition and health.

Then of course there is CRISPR-Cas9, which allows researchers to delete or insert genes in a plant’s DNA. If it’s not subject to regulatory approval, the longer-lasting mushroom that has already been developed could be the first in a flood of changes to crops that will see widespread appeal.

A Canadian-led international study seeks to document information about dairy cows to create a database that could validate genomic predictions.

The bottom line is to breed animals that could reduce feed costs by more than $100 per cow per year and decrease methane emissions by up to 26 percent. Profitability with environmental payoffs is the ultimate win-win.

The investment in science and technology — if they’re truly given a chance — is the promise of feeding a nine-billion person world.

Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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