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Another myth debunked – modern wheat does not rely on chemicals more heavily than older varieties

Posted June 18, 2019

People today are suspicious of everything. And it’s probably a good thing – there is a lot of deception in this day and age. However, this creates a perfect soil for myths and legends. For example, have you ever heard someone saying that modern wheat varieties are more heavily reliant on pesticides and fertilisers? Scientists from The University of Queensland say that this is simply not true.

Modern wheat varieties are resilient, produce a better yield and out-perform older varieties – they do not depend on chemicals that much. Image credit: Bluemoose via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

What is true is that today farmers are planting different kind of wheat than people were cultivating a hundred years ago. Today’s technology and selection allowed creating more resilient breeds of wheat that produce a better yield. Harvest, however, is also dependent on the use of chemicals – this is simply a reality we live in. Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are sort of a warranty, increasing the chance of a better harvest. But are the modern wheat varieties more reliant on pesticides and fertilisers than older varieties? Scientists say no.

No one is disputing the fact that selection and scientific analysis allowed us creating more efficient wheat varieties, right? So why wouldn’t we create wheat that is more resilient and less dependent on common chemicals? Scientists conducted a research, which debunked the old myth and proved that the modern wheat varieties out-performs older varieties, even under conditions of reduced amounts of fertilisers, fungicides and water. This comes as a result of a comparison between 200 wheat varieties, cultivated over the past 50 years in different conditions.

Interestingly, scientists also found that the yield from modern wheat could be further increased by 23 %. This will encourage scientists to develop new breeding strategies, involving the use of artificial intelligence. This should speed up the process, allowing having better wheat sooner. Dr Kai Voss-Fels, author of the study, said: “Increased breeding efforts are needed to enhance the resilience of wheat varieties to challenging environmental conditions”. In fact, these findings could increase productivity of organic farms as well – it is not all about chemicals.

It is ok for people to be sceptical. But not everything about modern times is terrible. Scientists were able to increase wheat production and so they can also make it less dependent on chemicals. Furthermore, increasing yields is going to be even more important, because of climate change and growing world’s population. Growing food is going to be more difficult, but we will need more and more of it.


Source: The University of Queensland

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