I have seen the future of wheat and it’s in Argentina.
Or at least one version of it which would be of great benefit to an Australian farmer like me.
Let me explain. Two years ago, I had the chance to visit Argentina in a low rainfall area very similar to areas in my state of South Australia. It was early spring, which for us in the southern hemisphere means that crops were only three or four months away from harvest.
Our group of Australian farmers was on a study tour of South American farms, eager to learn about new methods, technologies and ideas that we could bring back to our own farms.
Outside of Buenos Aires, we examined wheat trials. The trials looked like pretty much any other low rainfall wheat trials, but in this case the crops were of great interest to me because they were genetically modified.
Years before, scientists had learned that the HB4 gene in sunflowers confers drought tolerance. They developed this trait into other crops, such as corn and soybeans—and also wheat, making them drought tolerant and allowing the crops to grow more productively in dry periods without incurring any production penalty during better seasons.
Did I have farmer envy? You bet!!
These trials of thriving HB4 wheat which yielded 25 percent more than non-GM varieties in drought conditions and in good moisture conditions yielded the same or marginally better than the conventional varieties. They illustrated a potential future for those of us producing food in challenging environments.
I’d love to grow GM drought-tolerant wheat on my farm in Buckleboo where we receive an average 12 inches of rain annually. In this region, water is a precious commodity. Our no-till approach helps us conserve soil moisture and we choose crops suited to this environment of short growing seasons.
Yet not even the best available varieties do well in a drought.
This hardy HB4 wheat crop is so promising that Argentina is on the verge of commercialization. Soon, GM wheat could become as common as GM corn and soybeans. In Argentina—as well as Brazil, Canada, the United States, and other countries—GM corn and soybeans are so typical that the non-GM varieties are downright unconventional. Read more