Sustainable intensification of agriculture requires that both agricultural productivity and environmental outcomes are preeminent (Pretty, 2011). It is clear that this challenge, to “grow more from less” (Syngenta) must be met by increasing productivity of land use. One opportunity is the “yield gap,” where high performing farmers can achieve yields several times greater than their neighbors; yields for rice in Asia and wheat in Europe can vary between less than 1 t/ha and greater than 10 t/ha. By understanding the limitations on yield, which are often related to lack of agronomic skills, knowledge and technology access, productivity of all the major crops can be substantially increased even using basic technology available today.
Advances in developing world agriculture require inter alia investments in infrastructure, development of local markets, financial instruments such as availability of credit and insurance, effective national social policies on land rights and gender issues. Public private partnerships will be an important part of developing local solutions.
Modern technologies will be important but will not be the only limiting factor. Technologies are available today to accelerate the development of new seeds with higher genetic potential based on advances in genetic knowledge, phenotyping and marker assisted breeding. Genetically modified (GM) crops, which have been a central part of the yield gains in United States and Latin American agriculture, offer significant yield growth potential in many areas, such as India and China. Their true potential may be limited in Europe and Africa if effective and proportionate regulatory frameworks remain elusive.
Modern approaches to the development of new agrochemicals that set even higher standards of efficacy and safety in use are underpinned by sophisticated technologies for design, synthesis and analysis, and also by advances in formulation science and application technology. There is still huge demand for innovation in developing products with new modes of action, particularly to counter the threat of resistance development.
Integrated solutions are attractive, since creating genetic potential in a seed is only part of the story. Yield potential depends on seed genetics and favorable soil fertility through effective fertilization and water availability. Without effective crop protection, 40-50 percent of the food today simply would not exist; it would be lost to weed competition, insect and disease damage (Oerke, 2006). All technologies must be used responsibly, and the regulatory requirements for modern crop protection chemicals are the most stringent of any technology area. The largest component of the $250 million research and development (R&D) investment needed to bring a new active ingredient to market, is the mammalian and environmental safety profiling, which ensures that products can be manufactured and used safely.
Water is a particular concern and may be the limiting factor in agricultural productivity in many regions where groundwater reserves are being used unsustainably (see Figure II 2-1). There will not be any magic solutions, but better systems for water use efficiency (WUE) can certainly be developed. Almost all aspects of the farm system can affect WUE. A lot of irrigation water is wasted (as much as 40 percent in some cases) through inefficient application. Crop enhancement chemicals (Bushell, 2009) can increase “crop per drop” by enhancing yield and reducing irrigation requirements. Seed treatment chemicals, such as Cruiser™, activate biochemical cascades within plants protecting against stress, creating vigorous, more extensive root systems that contribute to higher yields under water- or nutrient-stress situations. Crop genetics improvements also are an important area of research. The first drought tolerant corn varieties have been launched in the United States in 2011. In high value crops such as fruit, nuts and vines, drip irrigation holds a lot of promise for reducing total water usage and increasing WUE, as well as enabling better nutrient use efficiency through fertigation. Drip irrigation can