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Challenge of Change

Develop the Varieties and Breeds Needed for Sustainable Food Systems

A rapidly growing human population, along with climate change and weather variability, continue to pose challenges to agricultural production. They also put pressure on land, water, and ocean resources. Public research universities have long provided leadership in the development and application of technologies for breeding crops and animals that adapt to biological and physical stresses. Increasing growth in agricultural productivity requires substantial investments in innovation, adoption and use, and better identification of the most appropriate technologies and practices for improved plant and animal performance. Development of new breeds should also consider the potential impacts of the introduction of these breeds on ecosystem health, focusing on preserving biodiversity, minimizing the introduction of invasive species, and restoring habitats degraded by human use.

Plant and animal adaptation is a key factor that will determine how severely climate change will affect food production. Climate change poses a serious threat to species and agro-ecosystems essential to food and fiber production.37 Breeding plant and animal species that are adapted to these environments and environmental stresses, as well as pest and disease pressures, requires the need to assemble and screen germplasm strategically and discover new sources of variation that enable the development of new cultivars and breeds.38Genetic biodiversity is considered as a source of continuing advances in yield, disease, and pest resistance, as well as improvements such as nutrient quality. This enables agricultural systems to maintain productivity over a wide range of conditions, scales, and production styles. The impact of breeding on agricultural production is dependent upon complex relationships involving producers, the cultivars and breeds available to them, and the developers of these cultivars and breeds.

The Pathway to Meeting the Challenge

  • Identify and use genetic material to improve the performance of plants and animals. This includes using local biodiversity to produce varieties that meet the needs of sustainable production systems with attention to the impacts of climate, unpredictable weather events, and disease on the rights and needs of local communities.
     
  • Use new genetic technologies to tap into global genetic diversity in animals to produce breeds that are profitable, productive, sustainable, and appropriate for evolving production systems.
     
  • Access, contribute, and assemble relevant data and information involving crop and animal germplasm, agroecosystem expertise, climate, and biotic and abiotic stress to develop and assess the site-specific suitability for producers, as well as evaluate long-term health and environment risks related to genetic modification.
     
  • Build on new advances in photosynthesis efficiency to increase crop productivity and create more efficient renewable energy sources.

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