On Friday, the North Carolina Biotech Center hosted an Ag Biotech Symposium. Two of the participants of the Innovation Panel, Bill Buckner, President & CEO of Bayer CropScience and Dr. Ron Heiniger, Professor of Crop Science with NC State focused on the use and innovation of biotech in row crop agriculture:
"That's correct. And our mission is feeding the world and it's not really niche markets so we have to stay focused, focus our research on those areas that are going to have the most beneficial impact in terms of trying to feed this growing population. So, production agriculture -- modern agriculture -- fits right into that realm and these are the tools that are going to be necessary to accomplish the task that we have at hand."
Photo: Bill Buckner and Dr. Heiniger discuss ag biotechnology with Rhonda Garrison, SFN
SFN: Now, Dr. Heiniger, you said that you felt like the next hurdle to the biotech industry is going to be money.
"Yes, that's right. It takes basic research. It takes applied research. It takes money to do the regulatory requirements. Every stage of this process is connected to finding the financial resources to do so. Now, as we talked up there, there are some different ways we can go about it. The commodity resources we have from our growers. Private funds. Government money. We might have to put together initiatives to be able do that. It is going to be based on finding the financial resources to get this done.
SFN: Do either one of you see biotech from conception to widespread utilization, do y'all see that process speeding up at all?
"Well I think there's been a little bit of a lull already in biotech development and commercialization of certain traits. A lot of times we're just replacing traits that have been out there because we're upgrading all the time. Those big hitters, as we call them, the next wave of biotech traits are still sitting in the lab benches and being discussed and talked about and tested. So yes, there's the next wave of technology that is coming into the market, and we've talked about some of them -- drought tolerance, nitrogen utilizaiton - things that are really going to enhance yield. So, it's just going to take some time but I think we're getting close. But there's gaps, there's always going to be gaps in research and development and we just have to figure out how to close those quicker."
SFN: And Dr. Heiniger, you mentioned that corn is getting into a really, really tight spot these days.
"That's exactly right, I mean if you look at the corn market here in this country, we've become dependent on raising a record crop every year. But of course with flooding in the mid-west and drought in the southeast, you can't depend on that because you're depending on having an ideal weather environment each and every year. So it really comes down to how can we adapt that plant to accomodate differences in environment, whether it's a drought environment; whether it's too much water in the mid-west; whether we have enough nitrogen to supply that crop; we have to find ways to adapt that crop so it can tolerate some extremes so that we can move toward those high yield crops year in and year out in order to satisfy demand. You're looking at fuels, you're looking at food through feed applications -- swine, poultry, beef -- all of this is depending on that corn culture that we've developed and that's because it was so efficient. I don't want aggrevate the corn culture, the reason we have it is because it is the most efficient way to produce food at a cheap cost so everybody can have the same standard of living. So, we've got to provide ways to meet that market. That's really the challenge here, we've got to do this in order to continue to advance society."
SFN: Now, Mr. Buckner, you mentioned that resistance to GMO crops, particularly beyond our shores, is becoming more and more of a challenge.
"It is. I think it is a constant battle that we face. And we talked a little bit earlier, it takes a global network of everybody involved in the world of ag biotechnology to continue to influence public policy in other countries around the world. But I think as people begin to recognize the role that ag biotech plays in feeding the world, I think that people will come into another realm, if you will, to gain and have that level of acceptance that's necessary for us to move this thing forward. The biggest key isn't necessarily in terms of perception of safety. I think people recognize it, it's just not natural for some of those different cultures. So, from a regulatory standpoint, I think we can advance this if we can get countries to recognize that zero presence of the GMO trait in soybeans, or corn, what have you, is not possible. I think this is what they've always been trying to strive for. So accepting a low level presence of GMO traits in order to bring these different coarse grains, if you will, into these world markets is critical. That's the first step and then we can deal with other levels of acceptance around the world."