What are the next advances of biotechnology in agriculture?
According to data released by the Biotechnology Information Council, Brazil is now the second-largest producer of genetically modified plants, only behind the United States. Respectively, Argentina, Canada and India follow in the ranking. The planted area in Brazil represents 26% of the total worldwide. And it’s really fascinating the effects that biotechnology in agriculture has had.
In this article, you will learn all about the technological progress in this field, how biotechnology in agriculture was introduced and the impacts of this advancement. Check it out!
The historical context of technology in the field
It is a fact: agriculture is one of the most important sectors of the world economy. And it is no surprise since it is directly linked to the means of people’s subsistence. For this reason, it is also one of the oldest recorded activities.
Over the centuries, humankind has developed various technologies and methods that have optimized the means of production and made agriculture not only more productive but also able to reach new stages. Learn from a brief history in the following sections!
The first tools
Historically, agricultural activity began when humans stopped being nomads and settled down. At that time, the labour force was essentially family-based. Then came the first tools built of stone and wood. Over time, humans moved on to iron. Traction power came from animals and carts.
The emergence of mechanical tools
It wasn’t until the 13th century that the first blade plough appeared. More advanced tools were created in the 17th century, such as the grain shaker and mechanical seeders, which could be moved by animals or by human force.
The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was marked by the exponential growth of the urban population and the consequent increase in the demand for food. This process boosted the advancement of technologies in the field so that farmers could handle the necessary production. From there came the first machines: reapers, used in grain harvesting by the British in the late 18th century.
But the highlight of the technological evolution was for the Americans, mainly in the cotton plantations. There was, for example, a machine that removed cottonseeds. Another milestone occurred in 1982 when the first tractor was launched. The vehicle was powered by gasoline and diesel. Mechanization was intensified during World War I, consolidating itself throughout the 20th century.
Today, agribusinesses rely on much more than just mechanization. We have already reached the era of precision agriculture, which consists of a set of technologies and methodologies applied to agricultural activity — mainly in the field of data management. The highlights are tools and resources such as GPS, soil analysis, telemetry and fertility mapping.
Like data science, biotechnology in agriculture has also revolutionized the means of production.
Biotechnology in agriculture
The truth is that biotechnology is not an exclusive activity or technology of the last decades. We only need to look for a definition to understand that it is a very broad practice. It refers to a set of techniques for manipulating living beings — in whole or in part — in favour of economic activity.
There are records of microorganism manipulation for food and beverage production that require fermentation processes, such as bread and beer. This is a type of biotechnology, even if it is more traditional.
Despite this, this line of research generally had a stronger link to the healthcare sector. Microorganisms were used to create antibiotics as early as World War II, such as penicillin.
The application to improve plant management has been more in focus since the 1970s when DNA sequencing and recombination methods boosted advances in plant biology studies. These practices became known as modern biotechnology, differentiating it from the classic or traditional version.
Biotechnology in modern agriculture adopts several techniques to generate direct changes in the DNA of plants or organisms. The goal is to change their original characteristics or add new properties that improve productivity, nutritional quality and resistance to pests and adverse conditions.
The combination of agriculture and biotechnology is leading to a more efficient agribusiness. Today, it is possible to find plants that are more resistant to diseases, herbicides, pests, more extreme weather conditions and many other problems that used to be significant obstacles to agriculture.
This way, many varieties of Genetically Modified (GM) plants have appeared on the market, reducing the need to apply pesticides and increasing productivity even in a smaller planted area. This represents a gain in productive efficiency and environmental preservation. Some are also modified to be more resistant to long periods of drought, allowing cultivation in regions with little rainfall.
All GM food undergoes rigorous testing before being released for consumption to ensure food safety for both humans and animals. The security of biotechnology in agriculture is guaranteed by several international bodies supporting agriculture and health, such as:
- the World Health Organization (WHO);
- the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO/UN);
- the Food Control Agency of Canada;
- the Australian Biotechnology Agency.
In Brazil, specifically, there is the Law 11.105 of 2005, known as the Biosafety Law, which states that any Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) must undergo a series of tests directed by the National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio) for the granting of the Certificate of Quality in Biosafety.
The same law states that each request for research and release for commercialization must be analyzed individually. At the same time, it stimulates the advancement of scientific research in the area of biotechnology in favour of protecting the life and health of all.
Agribusiness still has a long way to go, and many technologies are causing a flurry of innovation in the sector. Check it all out below!
Technological advancement in the field
Biotechnology in agriculture is in full expansion. Although private companies participate, research focuses mainly on the public sector. In the field of transgenics — genetic modification of plants —, specifically, Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Company) is leading studies in partnership with public universities and is pushing ahead with the addition of pest-resistant and pesticide-resistant cultivars in the market.
Along with biotechnology, other tools assemble the field’s arsenal of technological advancement:
- Big Data: collection and analysis of data that is intelligently interpreted in order to generate valuable information for decision-making in agribusiness;
- Internet of Things (IoT): a series of devices connected to the internet exchanging information, such as temperature, humidity and light sensors, cameras and agricultural machines;
- drones: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that fly over crops to monitor operations and collect images.
Biotechnology in agriculture provides the farmer with a vast horizon of possibilities. The trend is for research to expand and bring even more resistant produce with better nutritional conditions to the consumer’s home.
Would you like to know more about how technology can improve your farming results? Contact us right now and learn all about our precision agriculture solutions!