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What methods other than genetic improvement can improve crop performance?

Aerial view of circular irrigation. © Kris Hanke

Crop genetic improvement, by GM or conventional approaches, is only one of many methods that can be used to improve crop performance. Others involve improvements in farm practices, irrigation, drainage, and herbicide, pesticide and fertiliser use. Better food storage and transportation to reduce waste can also play their part in securing a reliable supply of foodstuffs.

Remote sensing combined with computer technology is leading to better prediction and prevention of disease epidemics.

Genetic methods to improve sustainable increases in yield are very attractive because seed can easily be distributed to producers. It is also an attractive commercial target, because seed is a definable product that can be traded. 

Other developments include the use of GPS (global positioning systems) in what is called precision agriculture, so that fertilizers and pesticides are applied only where they are needed and in the right amounts. Remote sensing combined with computer technology is leading to better prediction and prevention of disease epidemics. And robots are being developed that could selectively kill the weeds growing among crop plants. 

New understanding of the interactions between crops and other plants or with microbes in the soil will also inform a farmer’s choice of crop management.

None of these innovations, including GM, are exclusive of each other and although some may be more expensive to implement than others, all could play a part in delivering sustainable agriculture that meets global needs. 

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