Wheat farmers reaffirm research support as World Food Prize honors biotech pioneers

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By Bing Von Bergen and Dan Hughes

 This week, the 2013 World Food Prize Foundation recognizes three distinguished scientists for their role in advancing modern agricultural biotechnology. Thanks to their discoveries, farmers around the world are growing crops with higher yields and less overall impact on the environment, a combination that was unthinkable when our fathers farmed the land we cultivate now.  

 As representatives of the U.S. wheat industry, we applaud the World Food Prize Foundation for recognizing Dr. Marc Van Montagu, Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton and Dr. Robert T. Fraley and for shining a global spotlight on technology that is helping us meet one of the most significant challenges our world faces today - meeting the nutrition needs of the world's growing population.  

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 The worldwide population is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, which far outpaces our current production.  Even if logistical shortcomings were solved, the food that many people will need far outstrips our current production capabilities. We firmly believe biotech crops, including biotech wheat, will be essential to producing enough food for our growing world.

 Although biotech traits are not yet available to wheat farmers, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) strongly support research and innovation in wheat to develop new commercial varieties, including biotech varieties, that will help us meet these challenges.  In recent years, an important consensus has emerged that biotech traits in wheat are badly needed as one component of a larger effort to help wheat regain its competitiveness.

 Biotech crops offer significant environmental benefits. As wheat growers, we are keenly aware that the number of mouths we need to feed is increasing; our natural resources, principally soil, fuel and water, are not.  Innovative research in wheat, including biotech wheat, offers significant benefits to help farmers maintain healthy soil and water to ensure long term productivity, all while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that come from agricultural production.  This research brings the promise of varieties that can grow in harsher climates with less water, nitrogen and other inputs, while maintaining or even improving yield.  In the years ahead, if wheat farmers are given the opportunity to produce more and better wheat using fewer natural resources, it would be irresponsible not to. 

 We agree that all scientific advancements should be the subject of healthy discussion and appropriate regulatory review, and that there will always be a place for choices in the marketplace.  But the benefits that innovation can bring to the wheat industry are not in doubt.  Because of that, we are encouraged that the World Food Prize is recognizing the contributions of these agricultural biotechnology pioneers.  Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Prize Laureate and World Food Prize founder did more to advance wheat innovation than perhaps anyone in history. It is with his legacy in mind and in honor of these laureates that we call for the next generation of innovation in wheat to ensure a healthy, wholesome future for the world. 

 Bing Von Bergen is a Montana wheat farmer, seedsman and President of the National Association of Wheat Growers

 Dan Hughes is a Nebraska wheat farmer and Chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates

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