A key aspect of biotechnology in agriculture is the genetic alteration of crops to enhance beneficial traits and improve plant characteristics. Traditional methods of biotechnology mainly involve cross-breeding. Breeders would select desirable crops and continue to cross breed them, altering the genetic structure of the crops, which now have minimal similarities to their ancestral counterparts. Modern day genetic alterations focus on identifying and enhancing specific genes which prove to be advantageous to the crop.

Biotech has given breeders the ability to control individual traits, whereas traditional cross breeding was an uncontrolled method with no guarantee of success. Growers have been able to increase crop yields on less acreage due to biotechnologies. Some other benefits of biotech crops include pest and disease resistance, increased toughness, and increased nutritional value. The four main global biotech crops are soybeans, corn, cotton and canola.

Biotechnology Uses

Some agricultural biotech uses include genetic engineering, molecular markers, vaccines, and tissue culture.

  • Genetic engineering is the process of transferring genes from one organism to another. This helps crops with weak disease or pest management by transferring genes from organisms that have strong pest or disease resistance.
  • Molecular markers help distinguish good or bad genes for accurate breeding. Breeders use this to build resistance to specific crop diseases, or to remove bad genes or traits from a crop.
  • Vaccines drawn from biotech are used for humans and livestock to provide protection from various illnesses and diseases.
  • Tissue culture is used to develop mature plants from small plant tissues, which can also be used to produce crop clones. This can be used to monitor and duplicate genetically altered plant cells.

Environmental Benefits

Scientists are increasingly focusing on biotechnologies to develop more efficient and eco-friendly processes of producing food. Biotech crops that have been developed to withstand pests and disease also benefit the environment by allowing farmers to reduce chemicals use, in turn reducing chemical runoff for surface water and wildlife. Crops altered to be herbicide-resistant allow for conservation tilling practices such as no-till, reduced till, mulch till, and strip till, which all help manage soil erosion, water conservation, and increase soil health. These crops can also reduce farm equipment use (less carbon emissions) and deforestation (increased yields on less land). These enhanced crops also help move toward sustainable agricultural practices and help feed an increasing population.

Costs Savings

Pest, disease, and herbicide resistant crops help reduce costs for farmers since they don’t have to spray chemicals as often, saving on material and physical labour costs. Biotech crops require less land than traditional crops, leading to increased yields while minimizing the amount of fuel and time inputs required. This reduces carbon emissions, saves fuel and labour costs, and drops production costs overall. Crops enhanced to withstand harsh environments like droughts, floods, extreme temperatures, and poor-quality soils are valuable to farmers because of reduced crop losses.