Soil erosion. Photo: USDA-ARS

4 essentials for sustaining agriculture

As an irrigated cropping systems agronomist I work on ways to sustain agriculture. In doing this, I have come to realize that there are certain requirements that agriculture must meet to produce food and to keep producing food (yes, fiber too, and other non-food products, but mainly we are concerned with food production). Here are my essentials for sustaining agricultural production: Protect the soil Maintain soil fertility Use water efficiently Protect the crop

Biological pest control

Biological Pest Control Basics

Managing pests is an important part of cultivating plants whether you are tending a small garden in your yard or several fields of crops. Insect predators can make short work of healthy plants, particularly if insect predators are in abundance. The good news is that there are natural ways to combat these pests that growers have been utilizing for many years. Granted, not all solutions are created equal. There are a number of reasons why biological control efforts may fail; including breeding being out of sync or the countermeasure not being strong enough. The primary points of biological pest control are: Classic Biological Control Conservation Augmentation Each offers its own pros and cons with success hinging on a large number of factors that is impossible to completely define. Even still, these methods have traditionally been effective for a number of growers and have been used since the dawn of farming.

Cotton Bollworm. Source: USDA

Pest resistance to Bt crops

The issue of pest resistance to insect resistant Bt crops receives regular media attention, partly because anti-biotechnology lobbies use it as an argument to vilify GM crops. The German NGO testbiotech, in a recently published report commissioned by Member of the European Parliament Martin Häuslingof the Green Party, argues that because of potential resistance development, GM crops should not be allowed for cultivation in the EU: There must be no large-scale, commercial cultivation of GE herbicide-tolerant or insecticide-producing crops. Such crop cultivation is unsustainable and will lead to a ‘race’ to step up their cultivation. The idea that a particular technology should be banned if it cannot be used forever is dangerously misguided.

Interview with Dr. Gia Aradottir

In England, there is an important experiment underway. A research group at the Rothamsted Research station in Harpenden, is testing a variety of wheat that has been genetically engineered to scare away aphid pests. If successful, the experiment could demonstrate the effectiveness of a novel, environmentally-friendly way to manage pests. However, a protest group is threatening the ability of the researchers to continue their project, and there have been a lot of claims made about the research. To help shed some light on this experiment, I interviewed Dr. Gia Aradottir, a biologist who is involved in the project. KJHvM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to work at Rothamsted and on this project? What is your role in the project? GA: I’m the newest member of the GM wheat team, I joined the E-β-farnesene project a year and a half ago. I did my

Genetic modification of insects as pest control part 3

In part 1 of this series, I explained how we’ve been using genetic engineering of sorts for nearly half a century to control insects by using radiation to induce sterility or other dominant lethal mutations in insects. In part 2, I explained how we can use genetic engineering to make these projects safer and easier. So… part 3. What’s the next step? Put it to the test!