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Across the editor's desk

Agriculture.com Staff 09/28/2006 @ 12:58pm

My friend, Russ Johnston, always makes me laugh. And then he makes me think. On his last visit to my office, he challenged me with a question. "How many things can you list that you would like to do before you die?" he asked. I thought of several things, then my mind seemed to gum up.

Russ quickly rescued me from my failed imagination. "Most people I've asked -- even after they've had time to think about it awhile -- can only come up with a few things," he said. "The longest list anybody has ever given me was about 15 things."

I recalled Russ' question recently as I listened to Hans Kast, CEO and president of BASF Plant Science, tell about "a whole new field of dreams" in agriculture. BASF Plant Science develops crops with improved agronomic traits for food, feed, and industrial application.

Successful outcomes for growers and consumers in biotechnology, according to Kast, begin with a creative imagination for the possibilities.

"Vision, dreams, and imagination are very important," Kast says. "Success comes with an imagination that drives people to thinking about unimaginable possibilities."

Here's an example. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) help prevent cardiovascular diseases. The current primary source, fish, is limited, Kast says. So BASF Plant Science is working to grow PUFAs in oilseed plants. And the proof of concept has already been achieved, Kast says.

Can you imagine growing 800-bushel-corn yields on your farm and soybean yields of 100 bushels or more? Scientists say both crops have the genetic potential for those numbers.

"Within the next 20 years the efficiency of agriculture needs to be doubled," Kast says. "The challenge requires breakthrough innovations leading to true technology leaps."

"Science is better and faster, and the American farmer can expect to reap the benefits," says Lori Thomas, communications manager of Garst, which is part of Syngenta.

"Syngenta invests more than $2 million per day on research and development," Thomas says. "With this level of commitment, growers can expect to see newer products more quickly. In fact, our molecular marker-assisted selection work in the breeding program means we can increase twofold how quickly we can add economically important traits to our top products."

Scott Beck, vice president of Beck's Hybrids, a 69-year-old family company, expects average annual yields to increase significantly.

"Average annual corn yields could increase by 5 bushels per year instead of 2 to 3 bushels that they have since single-cross hybrids were first introduced," Beck says.

"Yield-protecting traits will help to gain back the 14- to 20-bushel average yield loss that farmers experience due to corn borer, corn rootworm, and herbicide injury. This is in addition to the gains from genetic improvements that will increase at an even faster rate," he adds.

For much more on new crop traits in the hopper, see "Yields of dreams" beginning on page 42. Perhaps the story will stir your imagination to add to the list of things you'd like to do before you die!

My friend, Russ Johnston, always makes me laugh. And then he makes me think. On his last visit to my office, he challenged me with a question. "How many things can you list that you would like to do before you die?" he asked. I thought of several things, then my mind seemed to gum up.

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