How GMOs Help Us Address Climate Change
This post was originally published on Forbes on September 29, 2016.
Genetically modified crops are already helping farmers around the world reduce the environmental impact of agricultural production. In a single year, GM crops reduced atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 million pounds, which is equivalent to taking nearly 10 million cars off the road for a year
Innovations like biotechnology help us address our generation’s most pressing issues, such as climate change, which affect the entire globe and will continue impacting generations to come.
While we continue to identify and create innovative ways to conserve our natural resources, one thing is clear: biotechnology can help.
GMOs are already helping farmers around the world reduce the environmental impact of agricultural production. Additionally, the usage of herbicide tolerant GM crops accompanied by farming practices, like conservation tillage, help to reduce carbon emissions on farms globally and plays an integral role in minimizing agriculture’s carbon footprint.
Conservation tillage refers to a practice farmers can use to till the soil less often. Instead of tilling an entire field after harvest, farmers can leave the crop’s residue (like corn stalks) in the field, and then plant seeds directly into that residue during the next planting season. The residue serves as a “mulch” for the next season’s crop, also protecting the soil.
This results in improved crop production, improved soil health and water retention, and decreased greenhouse gas emissions.
Katie Pratt, a seventh generation farmer from Illinois says, “Long story short, biotechnology has given us the opportunities to conserve our soil, practice additional conservation tillage methods and lower our farm fuel costs…just because we aren’t in the field that much.”
In total, in 2014, GM crops reduced atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 million pounds (2.4 billion kg) through conservation tillage and also decreased fuel use. This reduction is the equivalent to taking nearly 10 million cars off the road for one year.
Additionally, USDA found that adopting conservation tillage can save at least 3.5 gallons (13.2 liters) of fuel per acre for farmers.
Indiana farmer, Brian Scott, notes that “tillage is our most fuel intensive operation on the farm. Herbicide-resistant GM crops enable more farmers to adopt conservation tillage because they help farmers control weeds more effectively and at a lower cost compared to conventional cropping systems.”
For example, if all of the corn (GM and non-GM) planted in the U.S. in 2015 was grown with conservation tillage methods, nearly 308 million gallons (1.2 billion liters) of fuel would be saved. Using conservation tillage in this way could prevent 6.9 billion pounds (3.1 billion kg) of carbon dioxide emissions from hitting the atmosphere. Globally, these benefits could be even greater.
Reducing the carbon footprint of agricultural production is an important step in combating climate change. While there is still a long way to go, advances in crop biotechnology are helping farmers all over the world reduce carbon emissions and make agricultural production more sustainable while meeting the needs of a growing global population.
Written by Kate Hall, former managing director of the Council for Biotechnology Information and GMO Answers spokesperson.