VIDEO: Plant breeding charts future

CALGARY — Biotech pioneer Rob Fraley feels the biggest benefits to agriculture from genetic tools haven’t come from inserting genes or building custom chemical compounds to support plants, but in plant breeding.

“And Canadian farmers have benefited greatly from this technology,” he said.

The head of Monsanto’s global research program said the current success and the big gains in productivity to come will be due to the advanced breeding tools that scientists like him now have to work with.

“We’re just at the beginning of a wave of innovations that are going to let us farm more efficiently, more productively and more profitably,” he said last month in Calgary at Grow Canada.

“These precise breeding tools let us change the genetics very quickly and create new combinations, but they also let us bring together breeding advances from all around the world. So, if a breeder in South American discovers a new disease resistance gene, we can map it and tag it and very quickly bring it into U.S. or Canadian germplasm.…

“The same with drought tolerance. To pack those wonderful genetics into that seed with these new tools, it’s very exciting: the biotechnology traits, the gene editing tools, the RNAi tools, the microbial tools.”

He said the ability of breeders to work collectively using the power of databases and rapidly make selections, narrowing up choices for development is still only beginning to be tapped.

Improvements to digital management of agronomy on the farm will allow producers to take advantage of the breeding technology.

“Typically a farmer makes 40 or 50 decisions to grow each crop. If we can make each one better, based on data, that’s exciting,” he said.

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