The variety of crops that farmers grow, from maize and peppers to cotton, are created by plant breeders. These experts are matchmaking alchemists that mix art and science to change plant traits in order to bring out their best characteristics. Tolerance to disease is just one example. Over the past 15 years plant breeder techniques have saved global biodiversity equivalent to an area of 6.6 million hectares of Brazilian rainforest, or 66,000 km2 — put another way that’s a habitat the size of Latvia.
This factoid is one of many from a recent study commissioned by the European Technology Platform Plants for the Future (Plant ETP), based in Brussels, Belgium. The goal is to make tangible the quantitative and qualitative information on plant breeding and the impact it has had on society over a 15-year period.
The study is called The economic, social and environmental value of plant breeding in the European Union. Its findings are aimed at national policy makers, EU politicians, the European Parliament and the European Commission.
The field of plant breeding is actually a collection of different techniques by which experts combine parent plants to generate better crops in their offspring: a sort of arranged marriage. The measurable benefits of plant breeding science to the environment, food security, the economy and wider society at large are explained in detail within the 94-page study.
The results of the study are being presented at an event organised today in Brussels on 15 March 2016 by Plant ETP and MEP Jasenko Selimović. Also in attendance at the event was the European Seed Association, which represents around 7,000 seed businesses, national associations and individual companies active in research, breeding, production and marketing of seeds in agricultural.
“Now we have quantitative data that proves this. It should be seen as a call for action to policy makers to assure both a science policy as well as a supportive regulatory environment that fosters and drives future innovation. In short, this report shows that supporting plant breeding innovation is first and foremost a great investment into our economic, as well as our societal future,” said event attendee Garlich von Essen, who is Secretary General of the European Seed Association.
Other examples of the quantitative and qualitative impact of plant breeders’ efforts in Europe and beyond include: