Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wheat Research

Money for crop research just a drop in the bucket
By Sue Kirchhoff, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — A deadly wheat fungus known as stem rust is shriveling crops from Africa to the Middle East, threatening the breadbasket of Pakistan and India, and could eventually reach the United States.

The potential threat to food supplies and the economy is enormous, yet Congress and the White House during the past several years did not react to urgent pleas from U.S. scientists for millions of dollars to develop wheat varieties resistant to stem rust. Instead, the main federal lab working on the disease fought budget cuts.

Help now appears to be on the way. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this spring promised $27 million to Cornell University to run an international research effort to thwart stem rust: a fungus borne by the wind, on clothing or in cargo holds that creates sores on wheat stems that blacken and wipe out once-healthy plants. In Congress, pending spending bills would increase research. But the inability of the federal government to react quickly to a potential crisis — about 90% of all commercial wheat varieties are susceptible to the new strain of the disease — is a telling statement about the beleaguered state of federal crop science funding. Read More

Continued investments in agriculture will be the key to meeting worldwide demand for food during this century. Technology has enabled us to get where we are today, but we can’t quit now. We are going to add a few billion more mouths in the next several decades and we must utilize technology to produce more with less.

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