St. Louis, MO (October 28, 2022) - The urgency to develop technology to address climate change was discussed during the AgTech NEXT 2022, Reinventing a Food System in Crisis, conference Oct. 11-13 at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, MO.
With the possibility of the average global temperature warming by 4 degrees Celsius, crops will have different reactions, says Cynthia Rosenzweig, PhD, senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the co-located Columbia University Earth Institute’s Center for Climate Systems Research.
Rosenzweig received the World Food Prize Oct. 20 for her seminal contributions to understanding and predicting the impacts of the interaction between climate and food systems.
“We need to develop solutions so that doesn’t occur for all regions of the world,” Rosenzweig says. “It’s imperative and urgent we do this. It’s happening already. The climate change we are experiencing is happening faster than at anytime in the past 10,000 years. There has been a rapid rise in the last several decades.”
Rosenzweig in 2010 founded the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Program (AgMIP). The group’s mission is to significantly improve agricultural models, and scientific and technological capabilities, for assessing impacts of climate variability and change and other driving forces on agriculture, food security, and poverty at local to global scales.
AgMIP is a global network of 1,000 agriculture, climate, and food researchers, Rosenzweig says.
She notes testing is being done to develop alternate methods to reduce methane emissions and increase crop yields.
“The early results are promising,” Rosenzweig says. “Farmers have a few years to make a few generations worth of progress.”
Reducing nitrogen use. Scientists are also studying how to reduce the use of synthetic nitrogen in order to reduce the impact on the Earth, says Rebecca Bart, PhD, associate member, Danforth Plant Science Center.
Nitrogen emitted from farm fields is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, she says.
Bart serves as the co-director of the Subterranean Influences on Carbon and Nitrogen (SINC) Center. At the SINC Center, Bart and her colleagues are working to improve the sustainability of agriculture by developing technologies to track the flow of nitrogen and carbon across plant roots, discovering novel beneficial microbes, and understanding the genetic mechanisms that influence these interactions.
Through this work they hope to decrease the use of nitrogen fertilizer by 12% without the loss of crop productivity. Reducing chemical nitrogen fertilizer in the U.S. by 12% would be equivalent to taking 10 million cars off the road.
Nitrogen is drawing attention in different countries and is one of the issues that needs to be addressed on a global basis, says Bob Morris, president, AndMore Associates, LLC.
“With nitrogen, we are only beginning to tackle it now and address it in regards to climate change,” Morris says.
Nitrogen is an important part of feeding the world. By working together through partnerships, Ryan Bond, PhD says reducing the impact nitrogen has is possible.
“It’s all about enabling growers,” says Bond, Nutrien senior director, global proprietary business development and innovation and the lead for biologicals and soil health. “We need to think locally and providing incentives to drive economic returns for the farmer. We’re here to enable it.”
Collecting underground information. Technology is helping researchers better understand how plants grow by providing information that hasn’t previously been happening.
“We only see half of the plant at any one time,” says Allison Miller, PhD, member, Danforth Plant Science Center and professor biology at St. Louis University. “Soil is the next frontier. It’s the part of the plant in soil that we are really yearning to analyze.”
What can be seen from space and above ground is the tip of the iceberg, says Pablo Sobron, Impossible Sensing CEO.
“We can integrate all of the work to bring in better eyes to add the underground component and get the data we need,” Sobron says. “We can measure the benefits if we do the right thing.”
More needs to be produced with limited water and land, says Vasit Sagan, PhD, Taylor Geospatial Institute acting director.
“Resources are shrinking due to climate change and other issues,” Sagan says. “We will need to produce more with limited resources.”
Technology is helping to advance and speed what can be done, Miller says.
“We find ourselves with a global challenge of a food crisis,” she says. “It presents really amazing opportunities. We have an opportunity to make a difference. I’m hopeful and optimistic about what we can do to reinvent the food system.”
Yet, GRYFN CEO Matt Bechdol says despite all the technological advances, one hurdle is among the hardest to overcome.
“The biggest pressing challenge is time,” Bechdol says. “We don’t have enough.”
For more on this story, see the Fourth Quarter issue of Seed Today.
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Written by Chris Lusvardi, Seed Today editor