Focusing on sustainability and innovation, Australian agriculture continues to be a major contributor to the country’s economy. With farmers implementing advanced farming practices including crop diversification, water-efficient irrigation, and carbon sequestration, the Australian agriculture industry is adapting to the impacts of climate change. Technology plays a vital role in helping farmers implement precision agriculture techniques like drones, sensors, and data analytics to optimise crop yields and minimise environmental impact. The practice of using biotechnology in agricultural research in fields like gene editing and the creation of new crops with better traits has grown exponentially over the years.
Biotechnology as we know is a powerful enabling technology that can completely transform a wide range of sectors, including the agricultural sector. There are several benefits of biotechnology for farmers, the food manufacturing industry, consumers and the community. Hence, it is vital that we support the development and application of biotechnology.
In this blog, we have discussed the advantages of biotechnology and its impact on Australian agriculture.
Biotechnology: An Overview
Promoting significant enhancements in crop yields, nutritional content, and disease resistance, biotechnology has revolutionised agriculture. The term biotechnology is used to describe “the process of using living things to create or change products”.
Gene technology, a subset of biotechnology entails the targeted exchange of genes between organisms or gene modification present in an organism already. These methods may alter organisms, referred to as ‘genetically modified organisms’ (GMOs). Products derived from these genetically modified organisms are often referred to as genetically modified products.
Globally, genetically modified crops were grown by more than 18 million farmers in 26 countries, in 2016 including Argentina, Brazil, and the United States. According to ISAAA (2016), the genetically modified crop plantation area increased more than 100 times from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to over 185.1 million hectares in 2016. Therefore, in recent times, genetically modified crops are the fastest-adopted crop technology.
Biotechnology: How does it Benefit the Agricultural Sector?
There are several benefits that agricultural biotechnology offers for Australian farmers and the community.
- Enhanced Productivity: The primary benefits of implementing biotechnology in Australian farms include enhanced productivity and better productivity. Initially, the genetically modified crop technology worked towards developing insect resistance and herbicide tolerance. Now, researchers are focusing on developing other traits to promote enhanced agricultural productivity including better crop yield, biomass, and product quality.
- Better Sustainability: Through biotechnology, agricultural sustainability can be improved. Since genetically modified crops are insect resistant, they are protected against key pests and can minimise or eliminate the requirement for chemical pesticides. Instead of using dangerous weed-specific herbicides, farmers can manage a major portion of weeds in agricultural areas using affordable broad-spectrum herbicides with the development of herbicide-tolerant crops. Fewer chemical applications lowered the costs for the agricultural industry and the environment, and less contamination of soils and groundwater.
- Better Pests, Weeds, and Diseases Management: Farmers can manage pests, weeds, and diseases better with the help of biotechnology. Australian biosecurity including prevention, surveillance, detection, management, and eradication of pests, weeds, and diseases can be improved using biotechnology.
- Establishment of New Industries: Biotechnology can promote the development of new bio-industries by expanding the agricultural value chain. For example, engineering plants can produce specific metabolites such as medicines, biofuels, and other essential products.
- Better Capability to Address Emerging Challenges: Through biotechnology, farmers can manage emerging challenges such as those arising from climate change and global food supply pressure. Genetically modified crops are more resilient to drought, salt, and varying temperatures, which can minimise the consequences of unfavourable climatic circumstances. By enhancing productivity and assisting in addressing the increasing demands on land resources and availability, and the increased demand for food and fibre on a global scale, biotechnology can boost plant yield as well as animal output.
Biotechnology: Relevance in Australian Agriculture
Australia has only used herbicide-tolerant canola, insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant cotton, and carnations with different coloured flowers for commercial genetically modified plants.
98 per cent of the cotton cultivation in Australia in 2016 was genetically modified. In New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia, 23 per cent of the canola area was genetically modified in 2016-17.
By mid-2018, Australia had 87 active field trial licences for genetically modified plants such as banana, barley, perennial ryegrass, safflower, sugarcane, wheat, and white clover. Disease resistance, product quality, human health, yield enhancement, herbicide and stress tolerance are among the few traits that are being tested now.
Tools and Techniques in the Australian Agricultural Industries
Primarily, there are four main types of non-GM biotechnology:
- Genes and gene expression are studied using DNA and RNA technologies.
- Protein technologies focus on studying protein production and function in different species and varieties.
- Cell and tissue culture engineering focuses on understanding and controlling cellular processes including immune reactions and embryonic development.
- Process biotechnologies use microorganisms or their chemicals to convert materials into byproducts.
The Australian government takes extra measures to ensure that the food derived from the genetically modified crop is safe and doesn’t impact the environment and biosecurity negatively. The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator and Food Standards Australia assesses genetically modified organisms and genetically modified foods, respectively. The application of agricultural biotechnology is impacted significantly by consumer attitudes regarding the possible effects of genetically modified food crops on human health and the environment.
For more information on the implications of biotechnology in Australian agriculture, browse through the KG2 Australia website or contact us. Having the country’s largest independent farmer database, we enable both farmers and industry to leverage the country’s comprehensive database for mutually beneficial outcomes.