25 May 2021
It has been half a century since world renowned agronomist and plant breeder Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Prize for his contributions to global food security. Since then, science-based research and development, and the innovations that stemmed from it, have enabled farming to continue the Green Revolution that Dr. Borlaug started.
Agriculture is moving beyond just improving food security to underpinning our ability globally to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. A new generation of farmers, environmentalists and policy makers will help shape how agriculture intersects with not just climate change, biodiversity and livelihoods, but also social rights, including how agriculture can improve equity in the developing world.
As the national peak industry organisation for the plant science sector in Australia, CropLife represents the developers of agricultural chemicals and biotechnology innovations that are key to the nation’s cropping productivity, profitability and sustainability. The team, based in Canberra, seeks to achieve a strategic regulatory environment that provides the plant science industry the freedom to responsibly operate, grow and enhance its ability to support Australia’s farmers and environmental land managers through industry leadership and professional advocacy.
Climate change has been identified as one of the biggest threats facing Australian agriculture. Dr Anne-Sophie Dielen, CropLife’s Director of Crop Biotechnology Policy reflects on this, “Changes in weather patterns and the increased number of extreme weather events have had and will continue to have a massive impact. Australian farmers are very resilient and know how to adapt to our harsh environment but these skills by themselves won’t be enough to address the challenges we are up against.
“Crop improvement and biotechnology will play a crucial role to ensure we remain a food secure nation,” she said.
Director of Agricultural Chemical Policy, Gregory Sekulic, is new to Australian agriculture after a decade working as an agronomy specialist at the Canola Council of Canada.
He noted some of the underpinnings of agricultural sustainability are soil and water health, and conservation – a changing climate challenges all of these.
It’s not all bad news though. In facing these challenges there is great hope in science and innovation. From his international perspective Mr Sekulic sees Australia as an agricultural leader.
“From the pioneering use of zero-tillage in conservation agriculture, to proactively managing pesticide resistance through classifications, to the early adoption of genetic tools in plant breeding and crop production, I’m excited to join the Australian ag sector and contribute to an even safer, more productive and sustainable cropping industry.”
Dr Jana Phan leads CropLife’s efforts in stewardship and sustainability and acknowledges how important the development and adoption of new technologies will be. “Australian agriculture is undergoing a transformation to ‘Agriculture 4.0.’ The plant science industry will be at the forefront as we strive to be able to increase the quantity and continually improve the quality with less.
“New technologies are coming onto the market almost daily. We’re seeing advances in molecular and synthetic biology, soil science, robotics and engineering, and data science – just to name a few. All of these will be beneficial to Australian ag,” said Dr Phan.
“We’re already seeing technology being embraced by farmers,” says Director of Corporate Affairs, Katherine Delbridge. “You only need to visit a farm to see just how much adoption of innovation is taking place. This planting season is the first time South Australian growers will be able to choose to grow GM crops and farmers and agronomists are getting accredited to use these biotechnology traits in spades. It’s a really exciting time for our industry.”
Dr Dielen agrees and can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring in terms of new techniques and improved plant varieties. “Imagine what a difference it would make for farmers to be able to quickly adapt to changes in circumstances, during a growing season.”
“We need to celebrate and promote the scientific advances in agriculture. We’re talking about pesticides that contribute to food safety and security, and GM and gene-edited crops that could combat environmental stresses and deliver nutritional gains for people in developing nations. These are important, life-sustaining advances that need the attention and support of our Parliamentarians,” said Ms Delbridge.
Lucy Darragh has recently taken on the role of Manager of Crop Biotechnology Policy. She’s joined CropLife from a national grower organisation allowing her many insights into the pressure these challenges put on farmers.
“The importance of policy and regulation for agricultural development can’t be understated. We need to make sure Australia keeps pace with the rest of world so that our farmers continue to get the best access to technology and innovation.
“CropLife is committed to working with the broader agricultural sector, science community, governments and policy makers so everyone better understands agricultural practices, processes and associated impacts. When people are left out of shaping the solutions to the problems they face, the solutions fail.
“I’m passionate about fostering a sustainable world and finding innovative solutions to real-world problems, policy and grassroots advocacy is an important part of this,” said Ms Darragh.
Dr Phan is just as committed, recognising that agriculture is a melting pot for the key issues that drive her. “Agriculture isn’t just about the work that leads to us being fed and clothed. It’s got a role to play in mitigating climate change and a role to play in nutritional and health benefits for the world. I take my part in that role seriously.”