HomePlantsClimate Change and Agriculture: “Invest more in plant breeding research and include gene banks”

Climate Change and Agriculture: “Invest more in plant breeding research and include gene banks”

Date: 18.01.2019 Author: Sara Landqvist Category: Plants

A conference room with white walls in an anonymous office building in central Oslo may not be the first thing that comes to mind when the topic is climate change challenges for the agriculture. But today, plant breeders, researchers and officials from the Nordic countries met in exactly such a room to discuss one of the most important issues we need to address right now.

 

Several maps in different colors shine from the presentation screen. The time series reflect the average global mean temperature in Europe and the trend is evident.

“If we are to be realistic and nothing changes drastically, we are heading at a global mean temperature which is three degrees higher than pre-industrial times. This will have a massive effect on agriculture”, says Jørgen Olesen, Professor at the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University.

He holds his lecture in front of Nordic plant breeding companies, universities and public servants who are particularly invited to a workshop arranged by NordGen and NordForsk. The aim of the workshop is to identify which kind of research is needed to adapt the Nordic agriculture to climate change.

Long-term task

When it comes to plant breeding, the process is time consuming. To develop a new crop variety better adapted to climate change might take 10-20 years.

“As climate change happens faster, the breeding cycles must also speed up. And a prerequisite for all plant breeding is genetic diversity. That’s why it’s crucial that we involve the gene banks more in the research projects” says Annette Olesen, who is responsible for plant breeding at Lantmännen.

Lise Lykke Steffensen, Executive Director at NordGen, agrees and underlines the importance that the Nordic society takes the future of our food production seriously.

“Business-as-usual is no longer an option. It’s clear that more research is needed if we’ll manage to tackle climate change which is already upon us”, she says.

Many wishes and opportunities

Genetic diversity is prerequisite for the development of more robust crops that can withstand extreme weather events, new diseases and pests. But the discussions at the workshop also concerned topics such as a Nordic platform for big data, possibilities for automatic phenotyping and artificial intelligence (AI) as well as development of the PPP-project which gather the public and private sector for cooperation concerning pre-breeding.

And even though the situation is concerning and it’s evident that we need to adapt to new cultivation conditions, climate change can also come with many possibilities for the Nordic agriculture.

“The Nordic agriculture will become even more important in the future. We have plenty of land, plenty of water (except for the summer of 2018) and good infrastructure. Also, we will be able to grow more kinds of crop in the future. But to be able to succeed it’s important that we need to invest in plant breeding research” says Kjell Ivarsson, head of the plant cultivation division at LRF.